First Lady: Youth Arts Programs Critical in Shaping Character

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First Lady Michelle Obama Official PortraitFirst lady Michelle Obama praised youth programs organizers at an awards ceremony Monday, saying arts and humanities programs encourage young people to expand their ambitions and pursue their dreams. 

Speaking at the 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards in Washington, D.C., Obama, who also serves as honorary chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), said many programs are forced to operate on “shoestring budgets … in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.” But the programs are ultimately successful, she added, because of the program organizers’ late nights and long hours. As a result, the programs continue to help shape opportunities for children and adolescents that are “worthy of their promise.”

“Everyday, you all are doing the hard work,” Obama said. “You are pushing and inspiring our kids.” 

Obama said programs encouraging creativity in young people teach skills like problem solving, teamwork and self-expression useful for more than just stage and studio. The skills, she said, are valuable in the classroom today, and will be valuable in the workplace tomorrow.

Among the youth programs honored at the ceremony were the African Cultural Connection of Omaha, Neb.; The New York City Urban Debate League; and Rhythm in Setting Expectations (RISE!) of Norfolk, Va.

Arts education has “transformative power” in the lives of young people, Obama said, and such programs are “absolutely critical” in shaping the character of the nation’s youth. Additionally, the programs may play a prominent role in rising high school graduation rates. 

Of the kids, Obama said, “If they are persistent and tenacious and bold, then they can truly make something extraordinary of their lives.”

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