REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT A CAMPAIGN EVENT
Morgan State University
5:56 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Wow. Well, thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you. You all, rest yourselves. Rest. (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. Thank you all so much. Wow, this is -- I am -- (applause) -- I am rarely speechless, but I’m almost -- I am beyond thrilled. You don’t know how much we love you, how much your support means to us. I mean, truly, it makes me so emotional, and I’ve got to give a speech, so you all have to stop it. (Laughter.) But, truly, this -- Barack and I are standing up straight because of folks like you, so thank you all so much. Thank you. (Applause.)
I want to start, first of all, by thanking Charnelle for that beautiful introduction -- (applause) -- really. We hear that story from millions of people of all ages. But to hear it from a young person whose life has been so greatly affected in a positive way, and to have her standing here so graceful and elegant, that’s what this is all about. So let’s thank Charnelle for everything she’s doing. (Applause.)
And I want to thank our host, Dr. David Wilson, for allowing us to be here today. (Applause.) We have a few more distinguished people with us today. I want to recognize Governor O’Malley, who is here. (Applause.) Your Mayor, Mayor Rawlings-Blake -- Stephanie is here. (Applause.) We have Senators Mikulski and Cardin who are here. (Applause.) I’m not sure if they’re still here, but I know they were here. Representatives Cummings, Edwards, and Sarbanes -- you all, thank you so much. (Applause.) And all of the other Maryland elected officials who have taken time to be with us today. Thank you, all.
And most of all, I want to thank all of you for joining us, especially all of the students here from Morgan State. (Applause.) We are so proud of you all. Proud! Proud! Proud! You all, keep working hard, keep making us proud. You all are going to be standing up here one day, right? (Applause.) Well, you all seem pretty fired up and ready to go. (Applause.) And that’s good, because after our convention a couple of weeks ago, I’m feeling kind of fired up and ready to go myself. (Applause.)
As I’m sure you remember, in Charlotte, we heard from just a wonderful array of speakers, including your Governor, folks like President Clinton, Vice President Biden. And they reminded us of a few things -- how much we’ve accomplished together, how much is at stake, and why we need to reelect my husband for four more years. (Applause.)
And see, my job in Charlotte I thought was pretty easy, because I had the pleasure and the honor of talking about the man I have loved and admired for 23 years and why I decided to marry him. (Applause.) See, everybody liked my speech, but I had good material to work with. (Laughter and applause.)
I’ve been sharing our story a little bit, but I want the young people to pay attention because, see, back when I first met Barack, we started dating, he had everything going for him. All right, ladies, listen to this. This is what I want you to be looking for. (Laughter.) Yes, he was handsome -- still is. (Applause.) I think so. He was charming, talented, and oh-so smart, truly. But that is not why I married him.
Now, see, I want the fellas to pay attention to this. (Laughter.) You all listening? What truly made me fall in love with Barack Obama was his character. You hear me? (Applause.) It was his character. It was his decency, his honesty, his compassion and conviction.
See, I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs, and instead started his career fighting to get folks back to work in struggling communities. I loved that about him. And I loved that Barack was devoted to his family, especially the women in his life. (Applause.) I saw the respect he had for his mother. I saw how proud he was that she was able to put herself through school while supporting him and his sister as a single mom.
I saw the tenderness that he felt for his grandmother, and how grateful he was that long after she should have retired, she was still waking up every morning, catching a bus to her job at a community bank, making sure she was supporting his family. And he watched as she was passed over for promotions simply because she was a woman, but he saw how she kept getting up, kept doing what she needed to do, doing that same job year after year, and doing it without complaint or regret.
See, with Barack, I found a real connection because in his life, I saw so much of my own. See, growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I watched my father make that same uncomplaining journey every day to his job at the city water plant. I saw how he carried himself with that same dignity, that same pride that one gets from being able to provide for their family, that same hope that his kids would one day have opportunities he never dreamed of. How many people here have folks like that in their lives? (Applause.)
Like so many families in this country, our families just weren’t asking for much. They didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success. They didn’t mind if other’s had much more than they did -- in fact, they admired it. They simply believed in that fundamental American promise that even if you don’t start up with much, if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do then you should be able to build a decent life for yourself and a better life for your kids and grandkids.
And they also believed, yes, that when you’ve worked hard and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you don’t slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed. (Applause.)
That’s how Barack and I and so many of you were raised. Those are the values we were taught. And we learned that how hard you work matters more than how much you make. We learned that the truth matters. So you don’t take shortcuts; you don’t game the system; you don’t play by your own set of rules. (Applause.)
We learned that no one gets where they are on their own, that each and every one of us has a community of people lifting us up -- from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean. (Applause.)
And we were always taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect. We also learned about citizenship and service -- that we’re all about something bigger than ourselves; that with our freedoms come obligations, and with our blessings come a duty to give back to others who have less. (Applause.)
And these are the values that make Barack such an extraordinary husband to me and such a phenomenal father to our girls. But Barack’s values matter to me not just as a wife and a mother, but also as a citizen and as a First Lady. See, because I’ve seen up close and personal what being President really looks like. And I’ve seen how critical those values are for leading this country.
So over the past three and a half years, I’ve seen how the issues that come across a President’s desk are always the hard ones -- the decisions that aren’t just about the bottom line, but they’re about laying a foundation for the next generation. And I’ve seen how important it is to have a President who doesn’t just tell us what we want to hear, but who tells us the truth -- even when it’s hard; especially when it’s hard. (Applause.)
And I’ve also seen that when it comes time to make those tough calls and everyone’s urging you to do what’s easy, what polls best, what makes good headlines, as President, you have got to be driven by the struggles, hopes and dreams of all the people you serve. As President, you have to have a strong inner compass and a core commitment to your fellow citizens. That’s how you make the right decisions for this country. That’s what it takes to be a leader. (Applause.)
Since the day he took office, on issue after issue, crisis after crisis, that’s what we’ve seen in my husband. We have seen his values at work. We’ve seen his vision unfold. We’ve seen his character, courage and conviction. Think back to when Barack first took office. Our economy was on the brink of collapse. The newspapers were using words like “meltdown” and “calamity,” declaring “Wall Street Implodes,” “Economy in Shock.”
See, for years, folks had been lured into buying homes they couldn’t afford so their mortgages were under water. Banks weren’t lending, companies weren’t hiring. The auto industry was in crisis. This economy was losing 800,000 jobs every single month, and a lot of folks were wondering whether we were headed for a Great Depression. See, and this is what Barack Obama faced on day one as President. This is what awaited him. (Applause.)
But instead of pointing fingers, instead of placing blame, Barack Obama got to work -- because he was thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother. (Applause.) And that’s why he cracked down on lending abuses, so that today, when you apply for a mortgage or a credit card, you know exactly what you’re getting into. (Applause.)
That’s why he cut taxes for small businesses and working families, because he believes strongly that here in America, teachers and firefighters shouldn’t pay higher tax rates than millionaires and billionaires. Not in America. (Applause.)
He got the auto industry back on its feet, and today new cars are rolling off the line at proud American companies like GM. (Applause.)
And, yes, while we still have a long way to go to rebuild our economy, we have had 30 straight months of private sector job growth -- a total of 4.6 million new jobs under this administration -- good jobs, right here in the United States of America. (Applause.)
And then, as Charnelle says, when it comes to the health of our families, Barack didn’t care whether health reform was the easy thing to do politically, because that’s not who he is; he cared that it was the right thing to do.
And today, because of health reform our parents and grandparents on Medicare are paying hundreds less for their prescription drugs. (Applause.) Young people, like Charnelle, many of you here can stay on your parent’s insurance until you’re 26 years old because of health reform. (Applause.)
Insurance companies now have to cover basic preventative care, things like contraception, cancer screenings, with no out-of-pocket cost. They won’t be able to discriminate against people like Charnelle because you’ve got a preexisting condition. Maybe it’s diabetes or even asthma -- no longer. And if you get a serious illness like cancer and you need expensive treatment, no longer can they tell you, sorry, you’ve hit your lifetime limit and we’re not paying a penny more. That is now illegal because of health reform.
And when it comes to giving our young people the education they deserve, Barack knows that like me and like so many of you, he never, never could have attended college without financial aid. Never. Never. (Applause.)
In fact, as I shared at the convention, when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. So, yeah, when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we’ve been there. This is not a hypothetical. And that is why Barack doubled funding for Pell Grants and fought so hard to keep student interest rates down. (Applause.) Because he knows how important it is for all of you to get the skills you need for the jobs of the future -- the kind of jobs you can raise a family on, jobs that will drive our economy for decades to come.
And finally, when it comes to understanding the lives of women -- when it comes to standing up for our rights and our opportunities -- we know that my husband will always have our backs. (Applause.)
We know this because Barack knows from personal experience what it means for a family when women aren’t treated fairly in the workplace. He knows what it means when women struggle to meet the demands of their jobs and the needs of their families. And today, as a father, oh, he knows what it means to want our daughters to have the same freedoms and opportunities as our sons. (Applause.)
And that’s why the very first bill he signed into law as President was to help women get equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) And that is why he will always, always fight to ensure that women can make our own decisions about our bodies and our health care. That’s what my husband stands for. (Applause.)
So when people ask you what this President has done for our country, when you run into folks who are deciding who will be the best person to keep America moving forward for four more years, here’s what I want to tell you -- I want you to tell them. I want you to tell them about the millions of jobs Barack has created, about the health reform he passed. Tell them about all those kids who can finally afford college.
Tell them how Barack ended the war in Iraq, how we together took out Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Tell them how Barack fought to get veterans and military families the benefits they’ve earned. (Applause.)
Tell them about the young immigrants brought to America through no fault of their own, and who will now no longer be deported from the only country they’ve ever called home. (Applause.)
Tell them how our brave men and women in uniform will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. Tell them. Tell them that and so much more. (Applause.)
I could go on and on and on. But here’s what I want you to tell them: Tell them that Barack Obama knows the American Dream because he’s lived it. (Applause.) And he is fighting every day so that everyone in this country can have that same opportunity no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love. (Applause.)
But also be clear that while he is very proud of what we’ve achieved together, my husband is nowhere near satisfied. Barack knows that too many folks are still hurting. He knows all too well that there’s plenty of work left to be done. And as President Clinton said in his speech in Charlotte, it’s going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild an economy from the brink of collapse. (Applause.)
But here’s what I know for sure, what I have seen firsthand: Since the day he took office, Barack has been fighting for us. He has been struggling with us. And together, slowly but surely, we’ve been pulling ourselves out of that hole that we started in. For three and a half years, we’ve been moving forward and making real progress, and we’re beginning to see that change we all can believe in.
So we have to step back and ask ourselves something -- are we going to turn around and go back to the same policies that got us into this hole in the first place?
MRS. OBAMA: Are we going to just sit back and watch everything we’ve worked for and fought for to just slip away?
MRS. OBAMA: What are we going to do? Or are we going to keep moving this country forward? What are we going to do? Forward!
But in the end, the answers to these questions is up to us. It’s on us. Because all of our hard work, all of the progress that we’ve made together, it is all on the line. It’s all at stake this November. Know that.
And as my husband has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. That is a guarantee. And it could all come down to what happens in just a few battleground states like Virginia or North Carolina.
And I want you to think back to what happened in 2008. Back then, we won Virginia by about 235,000 votes. Now, that might sound like a lot to some, but when you break that number down, that’s just 100 votes for precinct. One hundred votes -- you can kind of see that, right?
So if there’s anybody here -- especially our young people, if you think for one minute -- and to make the point even better, look at what happened in North Carolina. We won that by just 14,000 votes. That’s just five votes per precinct. You hear? Five. So that could mean just one vote in a neighborhood, right? That could mean just one vote in a dorm room, in an apartment.
So if there is anyone here who might be thinking to themselves, well, maybe my vote doesn’t matter, maybe my involvement doesn’t count, maybe in this complex political process ordinary folks can’t possibly make a difference -- if anybody is thinking like that, I want you to think about those five votes.
I want you to think about how, with just a few evenings on a phone bank, just a few hours knocking on some doors, you could swing an entire precinct for Barack Obama all by yourself, all by your lonesome. (Applause.)
And if we win enough precincts, we will win these battleground states. And if we win enough of those states, we will be well on our way to putting Barack Obama back in the White House for four more years. (Applause.) It’s very doable.
So here’s what we need you to do. From now until November, we are going to need every single one of you here to work like you’ve never worked before. We need you to work with our team here in Maryland. They’re the ones here today with clipboards, so if you see somebody with a clipboard, that's the best way to get involved. We need you to sign up to make phone calls or to head over to Virginia, one of those battleground states, for a few days or maybe even a weekend to help get the vote out.
And we need every single one of you to talk to everyone you know -- your friends, your neighbors, that cousin you haven’t seen in a while, that student sitting next to you in the classroom -- you know that student, that student who’s not paying attention. Talk to him. (Laughter.)
And for our young people, shoot, talk to your parents and your grandparents -- especially to them. Make sure they know what this election means for your futures, because this is really about your future. Tell them what's at stake. Remind them of all the things this President has accomplished. Bring them to events like this one.
But most of all, make sure that you and they are registered to vote. You’ve got to be registered. Got to be registered. (Applause.) Especially if you’ve just changed addresses here at school -- if you’ve got a new address, you’ve got to reregister. If you’ve never voted before, you have to register. And once folks are registered, make sure they get out to the polls and cast their ballots on Election Day.
And if they don’t know where to go or what to do, you can send them to one of our websites –- gottaregister.com and gottavote.com -- and that's easy, especially for computer-literate young people, your generation, you can do it all there. You can find everything you need to make sure that your voices are heard on November the 6th.
And I’m going to be honest with you, this journey is going to be hard, and these last days are going to be long. But here’s what I want you to think about. When you start getting tired -- and you will; when you start thinking about taking a day off -- and you will, I want you to remember that what we do for the next 46 days will absolutely make the difference between waking up the day after Election Day and asking ourselves, “Could we have done more?”, or feeling the promise of four more years. That's the difference. (Applause.)
So from now until November the 6th, we need you to keep on working, and struggling, and pushing forward, because that is how change always happens in this country. I keep saying this. That's how change always happens. But if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting that good fight, then eventually we get there. We always do. In this country we have always moved forward.
But maybe not in our lifetimes. See, here’s the trick -- maybe in our children’s lifetimes, maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Because in the end, that’s what this is about. That’s why we’re here. In fact, that's what elections are always about. Don’t let anyone ever tell you any differently. Elections are always about hope
The hope that I saw on my dad’s face as I crossed the stage to get my college diploma. The hope Barack’s grandmother felt as she cast her ballot for the grandson she loved and raised. (Applause.) The hope of all those men and women in our lives who worked that extra shift, who saved and sacrificed and prayed so that we could have something more. The hope that so many of us feel when we look into the faces of our own kids and grandkids. You know that hope.
That’s why we are here today -- because we want to give all of our children a solid foundation for their dreams. We want to give all of our children opportunities worthy of their promise. We want to give them all that sense of limitless possibility -- that belief that here in America, the greatest country on the planet, there is always something better out there if you’re willing to work for it.
So here’s what I tell myself -- we cannot turn back. Not now. We cannot turn back now. We have come so far, but we have so much more work to do.
So let me ask you something. Are you ready for this? (Applause.) No, are you really ready for this? Are you fired up? (Applause.) Are you all ready to go? (Applause.) All right, well, all we need to do is get to work, right?
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
END 6:24 P.M. EDT