Good Morning. Thank you so much.
Now, can I hear all the alephs [AH- Lef] out there?
I don’t know; that was pretty weak. As usual, I think the girls can do better. Let me hear all the BBGs.
I’m really happy to be with you this morning. I’m thrilled you got to hear how proud we are of you directly from the president of the United States. I’m particularly honored to be here with my friend Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, with the tireless Judy Feld Carr, and with the visionary Ben Keesey. I’m grateful for his campaign to end the LRA’s brutality. I’m also proud to be introduced by Josh Portnoy, whom I’ve known for literally his entire life and who is growing up to be such a great guy. For all they do for AZA and BBG, let’s thank Logan Miller and Sarah Minion [Min-Yun]. And I want to thank everyone who’s made this event possible, including one very proud AZA alum who now works for me at the State Department, my senior policy adviser, Scott Lasensky.
BBYO teaches lessons for a lifetime. It’s not just training from Camp Perlman; it’s the values you affirm every day you’re part of this movement. BBYO teaches you to build up from the roots to demand change. It teaches you that strength comes from pluralism and pride in who you are. It teaches the power of working together in our 21st-century world, whether you’re from CRW or NRE, whether you’re from Buenos Aires or Bulgaria.
I hope the obligation to serve that you all take on—as individuals, chapters, and regions—will be just the start of a lifelong commitment to service. I’m here today with a very simple message: never stop finding ways to serve your community and your country. I was born and raised here in Washington, and I’m very proud that you’re all doing today in service to my hometown.
Basically, I’m just a huge believer in the power of youth—and not only because I’ve got a teenage son your age who challenges me and teaches me new things all the time. Young people are the engine of global change. More than 60 percent of the world’s population is now under the age of 30. Young people are driving social networks and sparking technological revolutions. But, around the world, teens your age are also often having their lives wrecked—or even ended—by conflict and chaos. Teenage boys are targeted for recruitment by extremists. Teenage girls suffer from sexual violence, abuse, and repression. One of them is an amazing 15-year-old girl in Pakistan named Malala Yousafzai [ma-LAH-lah YOO-suf-ZEYE] who survived being shot by the Taliban after daring to insist on her right to go to school.
So we need you all to have Malala’s back. We need you all to stand strong for those who haven’t been as fortunate as you. When President Obama gave his famous speech in Cairo in 2009, he had a powerful message for people your age. He said, “To the young people of the world, of every faith, and every country—you, more than anyone, have the power to remake this world.” Young people get impatient with the way things are so you dream of the way things can be.
Just a little more than two years ago, young people rallied in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand a brighter future. Like so many before them, they were inspired by the universal yearning to be free. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.” From the American Revolution to the civil rights movement to today’s struggle to ensure that our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, each new generation of Americans has pushed to enlarge the circle of freedom. Now, it’s your turn.
Never forget: change does not just happen. Change comes when we, the people, demand it. Change comes when Americans from all stages of life and all ages of life unite in common cause. Change does not get handed down on a platter from above. Change boils up from below. Change comes when citizens decide they will not be denied.
To make change, you’ve got to speak up, you’ve got to show up, and you’ve got to be fired up. That’s why I’m particularly impressed by BBYO’s Stand Up for Each Other program. President Obama often reminds us that our differences make us stronger, not weaker. So we’ve got to stand up for diversity. We’ve got to stand up against bullying. We’ve got to stand up for the principle that you should be free to love and marry whomever you want. We’ve got to stand up for the planet and environment we share. We’ve got to stand up for fellow citizens suffering in poverty and despair. We’ve got to stand up for the peace and security of the state of Israel. We’ve got to stand up for two states for two peoples, with a sovereign, viable, and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel. We’ve got to stand up against cold-blooded killers like Joseph Kony in Uganda and desperate dictators like Bashar al-Asad in Syria. And we’ve got to stand up for the bedrock belief that we can do more when we come together than when we let ourselves be torn apart.
In December 2010, when the United States was the rotating president of the UN Security Council, we held a special Security Council event to bring in the voices of your generation. We invited young people from more than 90 countries to produce emails or YouTube videos telling us what they need us to focus on. Those young people set the agenda for that Security Council session just the same way you all do right here. We owe it to you, the next generation, to forge a world that’s more peaceful, prosperous, more equal, just, and free. But we also need your leadership. Some day soon, my generation will have to stand back and listen—and your generation will have to step up and lead.
We all share this same imperfect world. And it’s our shared duty to mend it. The Jewish people, like my own, have long handed down the prophetic tradition of social justice, and that’s part of what’s passed along with every BBG pin and every aleph’s pin. So it’s not enough to talk. Act. Don’t just make a promise. Make it happen. Don’t just dream. Get it done. Rededicate yourselves today—to pride in your Jewish heritage, to love of your country, to service to your community, and to the holy work of tikkun olam.
You’re growing up in amazing times. But to shape them, we need you—all of you. We need you to be fearless. We need you to get the very best education that you can. We need you to get out of your comfort zone. We need you to put your leadership skills to work. We need you to travel the world. We need you to get service in your soul and dirt under your finger nails. We need you to be innovative and passionate and brave. We need you to do big things. And we need you to keep making us so very proud.
Thank you very much and God bless you.
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