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"If you quit on school -- you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country," the president told students.
So much for controversy.
President Obama told the nation's schoolkids to work hard, listen to their teachers and wash their hands in his much-anticipated pep talk, broadcast in schools across the country.
"Every single one of you has something you’re good at," Obama said. "Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide."
The president offered inspiration to loners and kids growing up in tough circumstances, saying he knows how they feel.
"I get it," Obama said. "I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in."
But ultimately, it is up to each student to blaze a trail to success.
"At the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude," Obama said. "That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
"Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future."
The president delivered the 18-minute speech from Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va. The White House released the president's remarks ahead of time to help reassure critics he was not trying to indoctrinate students by holding the talk in a school setting.
The president did not address political issues like health care in the speech, though mindful of the prospect of swine flu sweeping through schools, he advised kids to wash their hands frequently.