Tuesday, September 8, 2009

President Asks Nation's Students to Set High Aspirations

Today I watched President Barack Obama's address to the young people of the United States with a dozen students at an alternative high school in an urban school district in Massachusetts.  The students listened attentively and respectfully.  When asked what message the president was trying to send, all  responded with some version of "You have to work hard" or "Don't give up on yourself" or "If you give up on yourself you are not just letting yourself down, you are letting the country down."  A few students, coming from challenging economic backgrounds as they do, implied that the president should have included making money as a motivating force along with curing disease and inventing cool technology.  Clearly they heard what he had to say and most thought the president did a good job. 

The principal of the school did an equally excellent job in his follow-up.  He engaged his students--many struggling with emotional and/or behavioral issues and at risk of dropping out--with the president's message of goal setting.  He invited some to improve their reading skills by reading from a book every day.  He applauded one young lady who said her goal for the year was to improve her behavior and another who recognized the truth behind the president's remark that you can't just drop out of school and drop into a good job. 

It was a privilege to witness educational leadership at both ends of the spectrum today, all in the space of 30 minutes.  A president, who himself came from challenging circumstances, inspiring the country's students with a message of personal responsibility and the very American values of persistence and hard work.  And a principal, inspiring the students he will work with, struggle with, and hold accountable day in and day out.  Both are the kinds of Heroes all of our students deserve and need.

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