Moms

Obama tells students to dream big

President Barack Obama's back-to-school welcome to the nation's students created less controversy in North Texas this year as fewer parents objected to letting their children view the address and more districts made it available.

Obama spoke to students at an elite school in Philadelphia for about 20 minutes, and the speech was aired nationwide.

The president told students that "nothing -- absolutely nothing -- is beyond your reach. So long as you're willing to dream big. So long as you're willing to work hard. So long as you're willing to stay focused on your education."

At Arlington's Shackelford Junior High School on Tuesday, about 750 students viewed the address, either live or taped, depending on their lunch periods.

Only two parents requested that their children be exempt from watching, Principal Andy Hagman said. "It's just part of the school day," Hagman said. "I have sensed no controversy about this at all."

Students in Angelique Bell's seventh-grade math class sat quietly during the address, though a couple of girls put their heads down on their desks as soon as the room darkened.

One of Obama's talking points was that it is OK to be different. "So, what I want to say to you today -- what I want all of you to take away from my speech -- is that life is precious, and part of its beauty lies in its diversity," Obama said. "We shouldn't be embarrassed by the things that make us different. We should be proud of them. Because it's the things that make us different that makes us who we are."

Keller district students, too, watched Obama's address with little fanfare or controversy.

All 32,000 students in the district had the chance to view the speech, either live or on tape.

A year ago, many Keller parents objected to their children watching the speech during the school day, and about 5 percent requested that their children opt out.

This year, few parents expressed concerns, spokeswoman Shellie Johnson said.

In John Keigley's AP world history class at Fossil Ridge High School, students said Obama delivered a positive message. "It wasn't political like some people said it would be," said Audon Archibald, a 10th-grader. "He told kids straight up, 'You have to work hard for your future, and with hard work comes good things.'"

Sophomore Monica Dhiman said she appreciated that the president was motivating students to work hard and achieve their dreams. "It's a good motto to live by," Dhiman said.

When Obama read from a Georgia student's letter that young people should work hard to achieve their own dreams and help others, too, Lacy Hubbard, a freshman at Fort Worth's Dunbar High School, agreed.

"If I need help, I'd want someone to help me, so I help when I can," said the junior-varsity cheerleader, who helps coach a Pee-Wee cheer team.

Freshman Ke'Lisha Smith said she could relate to Obama's remarks about bullies -- he acknowledged that it's a problem in schools -- because she has been picked on for being a good student and turning her work in on time.

"That's OK. I'm going to be making my money one day," said Smith, who wants to be a veterinarian, fashion designer or hairstylist.

Obama said students today may have many challenges to face as the war in Afghanistan continues and the economy struggles. He said some students may be working to support their families and feel that they should scale back their dreams. But he encouraged students to follow their dreams no matter how hard they seem to accomplish.

"Nobody gets to write your destiny but you," Obama said. "Your life is what you make of it."

Shirley Jinkins, syjinkins@star-telegram.com, 817-390-7657

Eva-Marie Ayala, eayala@star-telegram.com, 817-390-7700

Sandra Engelland, sengelland@star-telegram.com, 817-431-2231

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