Remarks by the First Lady Before Peformance At Pittsburgh CAPA High School

Pittsburgh, PA–(ENEWSPF)–September 25, 2009 – 11:34 A.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Good morning!  (Applause.)  How are you all doing today?


MRS. OBAMA:  This has been a great morning for us.  Don’t we think, my fellow spouses?  What do we think of these students?  (Applause.)  Bravo!

Thank you so much, Melissa, thank you for that wonderful introduction, thank you for introducing my fellow spouses.  And Melissa, thank you for your tireless work, your inspired leadership, and your unflagging devotion to the students here at CAPA.  You have every reason to be proud.

It is such a pleasure to be here.  I mean, it is more than a pleasure to be here.  I have been looking forward to this day the entire week.  So have my colleagues, as well.  So it is thrill — I am thrilled, and to welcome our distinguished guests from all around the world.  You can literally say that the world is watching you all today.  (Laughter.)  That’s a good thing.  And we’re here as we celebrate some of America’s most gifted performers and some of the hottest up-and-coming young talents in our nation.  That would be you.  (Applause.)

I want to start by recognizing one of the country’s greatest composers — and I know as students of the arts and music, you’ve heard of this gentleman, Marvin Hamlisch, who also happens to be one of the few people probably in the history of this country to have won an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy and an Oscar.  Now, that’s pretty good.  (Laughter.)  And he’s been working with the students here today to put on the fabulous show that we’re going to see, so we want to thank him for his generosity.  (Applause.)

And I want to honor Gregory Lehane — a widely recognized director and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University — for giving his time to help direct today’s performances.  Let us give a hand to Mr. Gregory Lehane.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

And I also want to express my gratitude to the renowned artists who have given their time to come today to be a part of this performance — some of my very favorites.  Sara Bareilles.  I have to say, she is on my iPod. (Laughter.)  She has gotten me through many a day with “Gravity” and “Love Song.”  I love her.  (Laughter.)  Yo-Yo Ma.  You know, what more is there to say?  (Applause.)  And another one of my favorites, Trisha Yearwood.  So I’m just excited as you all.  (Laughter.)

And finally, I want to thank the marvelous young people — oh, all of you — who performed for us today who will be singing and dancing and playing music for us today in this performance and during this morning.  You brought tears to our eyes.  It means so much to see such talent on display.

As my good friend, Carla Sarkozy, said, you know, in America, you know, here you have people who can sing, and they can dance, and they can act.  Now, she said in France it’s not often that you get all of those wrapped in one.  But she said there’s something unique about America’s talents where it’s just so natural to see all of that talent on display.  So you all should be so very proud.

Now, there are a number of reasons why I personally wanted to come and bring our international visitors here to CAPA this morning.

We’re here because I wanted to introduce them to some of America’s finest, most creative, most accomplished young people.  I wanted to come here because I wanted to showcase the value of arts education — and you put that on display.  That fact that it gives the chance to our young people to discover their voices and to develop their talents, this should be an opportunity that is available for every single child in this nation and quite frankly around the world.

And I wanted to come here because this school embodies the belief that President Obama and I share — and that is the arts aren’t just a nice thing to do if you have a little time, right?  It’s not just a hobby, although it can be a very good hobby.  It shouldn’t be something you do just because you can afford it.

We believe strongly that the arts aren’t somehow an “extra” part of our national life, but instead we feel that the arts are at the heart of our national life.  It is through our music, our literature, our art, drama and dance that we tell the story of our past and we express our hopes for the future.  Our artists challenge our assumptions in ways that many cannot and do not.  They expand our understandings, and push us to view our world in new and very unexpected ways.

And most of all, the arts have the power to connect us to each other throughout nations.  It’s something that we tend to share with one another as spouses.  When we go to other countries, there’s a common theme — that we share our music, we share our dance, we share our culture — because it reminds us that our world here in America is not so distant from other cultures and worlds around the globe.

It’s what happens when a country music star like Trisha Yearwood performs in Italy, and students here at CAPA study Italian Renaissance art.  Or when Sara Bareilles draws inspiration from an Icelandic singer named Bjork or a Jamaican singer named Bob Marley.  Or when Yo-Yo Ma, born in Paris to Chinese parents, promotes the music of Kazakhstan and Brazil, and Israel, and Egypt and more — and goes on to become one of the most beloved American artists of all time.

It’s through this constant exchange — this process of taking and giving, this process of borrowing and creating — that we learn from each other and we inspire each other.  It is a form of diplomacy in which we can all take part.  I think Yo-Yo Ma put it best when he said, “When you learn something from people or from a culture, you accept it as a gift, and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve that gift and to build on that gift.”

And that is what we’re doing here today.  We’re presenting the gifts of these wonderful American artists to our friends from all around the world.  And these artists are passing on the gift of their magnificent example to these young people who are here today, studying in this school — showing them that if they dream big enough, and work hard enough, and believe in themselves, that they can do and achieve some uncommon things in their lifetime.

That is the core of my mission as First Lady — to share the gifts that come with life in the White House with many of our young people as I possibly can find.  That’s why I’ve worked to make the White House a showcase of America’s rich cultural life.  We have held country music celebrations, and jazz performances, and I think we held the very first poetry jam that has ever happened in the White House.

And we’ve done a lot more.  And we’ve done it by also inviting young people from around the local community to take part in these activities, because the truth is, is that even though many of these kids are living in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the country, just minutes away from the centers of culture and power and prestige, many of them feel like these resources are really miles away, very far beyond their reach.  That’s something that I felt growing up.

And my husband and I are determined to help to bridge that distance.  It is critical that we begin to bridge that distance.  We want to show these young people that they have a place in our world, in our museums, our theaters, our concert halls.  And most importantly we want these people to know that they have a place in our White House.  We want them to experience the richness of our nation’s cultural heritage, one on one, up close and personal, not on TV.  We want to show them that they can have a future in the arts community — whether it’s a hobby, or a profession, or simply as an appreciative observer.

And that’s what so many of you here at CAPA have been doing here in Pittsburgh, as well — playing music for local senior citizens and elementary schools; and designing murals to beautify neighborhoods — using your talents to lift up others.

In the end, those efforts, and the performances we’re enjoying today, and the work these artists do every day here in America and around the world — all of that reminds us of a simple truth:  that both individually and collectively, we all have a stake in the arts, every single one of us.

And you don’t need to be rich or powerful to lift your voice in song or get out of your seat and shake your groove thing.  (Laughter.)  You don’t need to be a Van Gogh to paint a picture, or a Maya Angelou to write a poem.  You don’t need a Grammy or an Oscar or an Emmy to make your work on the cultural life of your community or your country a valuable one.

And to people who might not speak a single word of the same language, who might not have a single shared experience, might still be drawn together when their hearts are lifted by the notes of a song, or their souls are stirred by a vision on a canvas.

That is the power of the arts — to remind us of what we each have to offer, and what we all have in common; to help us understand our history and imagine our future; to give us hope in the moments of struggle; and to bring us together when nothing else will.  That is what we celebrate here today.

And it is now my great pleasure to turn this microphone back over to your principal, Melissa, and let the performances begin.

So thank you all for having us here.  (Applause.)  Good luck to you all.  Work very hard.  Study.  Listen to your parents and your teachers.  Take care.  (Applause.)

11:45 A.M. EDT