WASHINGTON - "Dream big. Don't aim low, aim high." That was the message First Lady Michelle Obama delivered Wednesday to 80 Middle School students, including 22 from New Orleans. "You have to prepare your minds and your bodies for greatness," Mrs. Obama said at the ornate State Dining Room at the White House.
Michelle Obama and family (White House photo)
For now, she told the students, their main job, as she regularly reminds her two daughters, "is to go to school, do your homework everyday."
The New Orleans contingent was from Batiste Cultural Arts Academy, one of eight schools nationally chosen for a two-year federal Turnaround Arts program designed to show how involvement in the arts can boost grades, graduation rates and civil engagement.
The First Lady told the students that in addition to working hard at school, they need to read everything "you can get your hands on."
"That's one of the things that President Obama does - he reads everything. He reads all the time. You have to read, read, and read again," Mrs. Obama said.
The First Lady told the students if they work hard, and get a little encouragement along the way, they will have great opportunities.
"The truth is that I know that I wouldn't be where I am today, and I know that my husband, President Obama, wouldn't be where he is today if he hadn't gotten that kind of inspiration from somebody in our lives. We wouldn't be who we are today without all these people who pushed us and believed in us and gave us opportunities to learn and grow and fulfill our potential. We wouldn't be here."
The students watched the Academy Award nominated film, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and Mrs. Obama signaled how she'd vote if given the chance. The inspiring story of how a six-year-old girl helped her family overcome tremendous obstacles in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is one of the "most powerful and most important" films in a long time, Mrs. Obama said.
"It shows us the strength of our communities, no matter what they look like," Mrs. Obama said. "It shows us that these communities can give us the power to overcome any kind of obstacles. And it also tells a compelling story of poverty and devastation, but also of hope and love in the midst of some great challenges."
The cast and crew later participated in a q and a with the students and Rachel Goslins, the director of the President's Committee on the Arts.
The Batiste students were excited about the chance to meet Mrs. Obama, as well as the star of the inspirational movie, Quvenzhane Wallis, who plays six-year-old Hushpuppy. Hushpuppy, the movie's heroine.
"It was great," said Gary Robichaux, executive director of the charter management organization, ReNew, which operates Batiste. "We got to meet with the First Lady. We just watched the president land in his helicopter from his trip (to North Carolina). And we even got to see Bo (the Obama's dog) play on the front lawn of the White House. Very cool."
The students were excited.
"I know New Orleans has a lot of negative things going on, and this is a chance to see something positive," said Algernon Jacques, 12, a 7th grader.
Algernon got the advice from Mrs. Obama he sought on "how to do well in life."
Paul Batiste, founder of the Batiste Brothers Band who helped found the school located at the former Live Oak Elementary School, said he's thrilled the students had a chance to meet the First Lady and get a behind-the-scenes look at America's most famous house.
"I can't tell how excited I am that our students are getting this opportunity," Batiste said. "The students have come a long way."