Millions of American schoolchildren all over the country listened to Obama’s speech on Tuesday, watching, applauding and in some classrooms cheering a nationally broadcast address that urged them to set high goals, knuckle down in their studies and persevere through failure.
“Don’t ever give up on yourself, because when you give up on yourself you give up on your country,” Mr. Obama told students packed into a high school gymnasium in a Washington suburb.
Several school districts in Maryland, Texas, Virginia and other states, where clamor by conservatives accusing the White House of partisan motives was loudest, decided not to show the speech. Some school officials said schedules were too packed to accommodate a presidential interruption, while others said they had taped the speech to show later this week.
And in thousands of schools that did show it, some children opted out after they or their parents decided they should not watch. At a 3,700-student high school in suburban Chicago, that meant 250 students sat out the speech in a cafeteria and elsewhere. At an elementary in Greensboro, N.C., a fourth-grade girl sat alone, eating her lunch as scores of her classmates watched the president in an adjoining classroom.
But certainly a large segment of the nation’s 50 million public school students watched the speech, and it seemed to resonate with many, including Mariah Key, 10, who watched with fifth-grade classmates at M. Agnes Jones Elementary School in Atlanta. Mariah said that her grandparents had recently divorced, and that money was tight at home, The New York Times reports.
It was also reported, At Wakefield High School in Arlington, Obama used the post-Labor Day reopening of schools in Northern Virginia and elsewhere to meet with students and deliver a lunchtime pep talk whose TV broadcast was watched in many schools across the country.
"If you quit on school, you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country," he told students. He talked of his own upbringing, raised by a single mother, noting that he "got in more trouble than I should have" as a youth.
"There is no excuse for not trying. No one has written your destiny for you, because here in America you write your own destiny," he exhorted them.
He made no mention of the controversy over his school appearance in his speech or in an earlier private meeting with ninth graders, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
In the meantime, some schools did not show the speech live, choosing to review it first. Others showed it but allowed parents to have their children opt out.
At Teasia's school - Thurgood Marshall in the city's Olney section - everyone watched. Some even screened it with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who reminded students that the president had overcome lots of challenges.
"He didn't know his dad," Sebelius - who, along with other cabinet members, fanned out around the country to watch the president's speech with children - said of Obama. "He moved a lot. But he knew how important school was", The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.