REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT INDIAN STATE DINNER PRESS PREVIEW
State Dining Room
2:00 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Welcome, everyone. How are you all doing? It’s good to see you.
Well, as Desiree mentioned, this is a very exciting time here at the White House and we are just excited to welcome all of you. We’ve got a big day going on — this is our first official state visit of the Obama administration. It’s very exciting for us.
And today the President is welcoming and working with India’s Prime Minister Singh. And this evening, tonight the President and I are going to be hosting our first state dinner — and we’re hosting for the Prime Minister and his wife, Mrs. Kaur, who we met earlier today.
So one of the things we thought — and I don’t know about all of you — is whether you wonder, what are these state dinners all about and these state visits? Because when I was your age I didn’t know what they were doing. So we thought it would be fun to take a little time to expose you to what’s going to happen today and this evening. So that’s why you are all here today and we’re really excited to have you.
These state visits and dinners are a really important part of our nation’s diplomacy. Throughout history, they’ve given U.S. presidents — and the American people — the opportunity to make important milestones in foreign relations. So these dinners and events are really critical to what we do internationally. And they’ve helped build stronger ties with nations as well as people around the world. That’s what President Obama and Prime Minister Singh are doing today.
And I know that all of us on our team here at the West Wing and the East Wing, we wish that we could include many, many more people in today’s events and this evening’s events because it’s not often that you get to do this. But even with a house like the White House, there’s only so many people that we can invite. So one of the ways that First Ladies in the past have tried to include the broader public in on what’s going on is by holding these types of events where we invite the press to share some of the incredible behind-the-scenes work that goes into planning and pulling off this amazing day.
But today we’re also doing something a little different by having you all here. As our mentees know, one of the things we’ve talked about that the President and I have tried to do is really open up this White House to our neighbors here in Washington, D.C., especially to local students and to children in our community. Because what we know is that even though many of you guys live just a few minutes, maybe a little bit away from here — but you’re close — these events probably seem like they’re miles and miles away, like they’re just untouchable.
So that’s why we really tried to think about ways to include kids in the community all throughout today’s event. At the opening ceremonies today we invited about 50 students from local schools to attend the welcoming event. And that’s why we’re so happy to have you guys here with us today. And for those of you who don’t know, these girls are a part of our young women who participate in the White House Leadership and Mentoring Program. And we’re really thrilled to have you guys here, because this is your White House and we want you to be a part of what we do here.
So, how do we get this stuff done? The President and I are going to host this really neat dinner outside in the tent. But we describe it, it’s sort of like a swan, where we’re kind of calm and serene above water — but we’re paddling like mad, going crazy underneath, trying to look smooth. But there’s a lot of work that goes into making this happen and we have a lot of people who are helping to put it together. And it takes everyone at the White House and the State Department and the Military Office who’ve worked so hard to put all of the events together today — the guest list, the invitations, the place settings that you see here, you’ve got to figure out who sits where — all that fun stuff.
It takes all the folks in the kitchen — we have our incredible White House Chef Cris Comerford — who some of you guy met — and the rest of our kitchen staff. And tonight, we’re going to include a guest chef tonight, a gentleman by the name of Marcus Samuellson — and he’s one of the finest chefs in the country, who is going to cook the dinner this evening. Cris, Marcus and our kitchen staff are working on a wonderful menu tonight that you’ll be able to share in a little bit. It’s going to showcase the best of American cooking. It’s going to include the freshest ingredients from area farmers and purveyors. And because of all of the hard work of some other kids in the community, we’ve got this wonderful White House kitchen garden out in the South Lawn and we’re going to use some of the herbs from that garden in tonight’s dinner as well.
But there’s also more to the dinner than just the food, even though that’s going to be exciting. Dinners like these also need great entertainment. So who do we have tonight? We’ve got someone you guys probably know a lot about: Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson is going to sing tonight — yay! But also have A.R. Rahman. He’s also an Oscar winner and he helped create some of the music for the film “Slumdog Millionaire.” I don’t know if you guys got to see that movie — incredible movie. We’re also going to have Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, who’s a Chicago hometown guy and we’re pleased to have him. And we’re also going to have the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Marvin Hamlisch, who’s one of the greatest composers in this country.
So it’s going to be an incredible night for a lot of our guests. And in just a few minutes, you’re going to hear a little bit more about the whole process of state visits and dinners from White House Historian, Bill Allman. He’s going to give you a little bit of the background to how these things have worked in the past. And you’re also going to hear about the importance of protocol from Tanya Turner, who is a protocol officer from the State Department. And protocol is critical — protocol, how you stand, how you sit, who walks where — all of that is really important. So Tanya is going to share with us how all that works and how we think about it.
But before I turn it over to them, I just want to take a few moments to share with everyone here also why today means so much to me, personally.
As you’ve seen from this year, I have been on the other side of these visits and dinners — as a guest in many countries. Since becoming First Lady, I’ve had the opportunity to visit eight countries with my husband, the President. And in each and every country, during each and every visit, I have been moved by the warmth and gracious hospitality that our hosts and the citizens of the countries that we visited have extended to the President and to me.
It means a great deal when you’re visiting and your hosts make you feel like you’re at home, like they’re excited to see you. It means the world.
Each visit has also been unique and profound in its own way. It’s not just the pomp and circumstances and the lights and the cameras and the fancy dresses. But when we’ve gone to other countries we’ve done some incredible things. We’ve seen the Jewish Quarter in Prague; we visited the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican; we’ve been to the Coliseum in Rome; and the American Cemetery on the beaches of Normandy in France, where the world comes to honor the brave soldiers who died there.
These places are more than just monuments to history, truly. They compel us to see the world through a broader lens — not just from your own backyard or your school or your neighborhood — but they teach us to look at the world broadly and to look at our place in it in a different way; to respect and admire each other’s culture and traditions in a very different way; and to honor all the values and the interests we have in common across the world.
You see this not in the pomp and circumstances, but in the people that you meet. We’ve met tons of incredible people over the course of our trips: the children, and the nuns who care for them, at a beautiful orphanage that I visited in Russia; young girls, girls just like many of you, that I got to spend some time with in London at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, it was an amazing day; the nurses in the maternal health clinic in Ghana, in Africa, that we got to see.
See, all these people — you know, the children, these caretakers, the girls, their teachers, these nurses and mothers that you’ve seen, that we met — what you learn is that they all want the same things as you do, as we do. Folks around the world, they want to live in peace; they want to pursue their dreams just like you guys do — and they have big, huge dreams just like you; and they hope for a brighter future for the next generation, just like we hope for you. Doesn’t matter where you’re from — these dreams are the same.
So what we figure out from these visits is that all across the world — non matter what our religions or races are — that we are all building that future together. And building that future is not just the job of any one country alone. No one country can do it by themselves. It’s the responsibility of all our countries all over the world to work together. And that’s why the President has worked so hard to begin what he’s called a new era in our relations with the world and other countries. He’s worked to strengthen diplomacy. He’s worked to renew old alliances, so that we’re talking differently with countries and people that we haven’t talked to before. He’s building new partnerships — and these partnerships he hopes will be based on mutual trust and respect.
But one of the things that the President has said is that this new era of engagement can’t just be between governments — you know, it’s not just about the presidents and prime ministers getting along. This new era of engagement also has to be between the people — the diplomats, the business leaders, the scientists, the health care workers. And yes, the teachers and the students. Young people just like you are a part of building that future and that engagement, the ability to exchange with one another as young people as you are is critical.
And that’s why the President, when he goes to another country he makes it a point to visit and to speak with students all around the world — whether he was in Europe or Cairo or China — he always reaches out to young people. And we need to expand that type of educational exchange, so that students like all of you here have the opportunity to experience and learn from other cultures — and to share your own culture, however unique and different, with other parts of the world.
Deepening these ties is one of the things that the President and the Prime Minister are working on today, one of the reasons for the trip and the state dinner is for these leaders to work together — whether it’s along the lines of working on the economy or climate change or global health — they know that young people like you, students, our future leaders are among America’s greatest ambassadors and India’s greatest ambassadors as well. In fact, India sends more students to study in this country than any other country — this year alone more than 100,000 students from India came here to America to study somewhere.
So by doing that they learn from us, and we learn from them in a very fundamental way. And as a result of those interactions, we’re all the richer for it. And after today’s visit, we’ll hopefully expand these exchanges even more. And who knows, maybe one of you all sitting at this table, one of our little mentees, will be living and studying somewhere in India — maybe New Delhi or Mumbai or Bangalore. Just imagine that, start thinking about your future in that way. This visit at this table is the beginning of that for all of you. Because, again, governments alone can’t build the future that we want for the world. That’s the job for each and every one of us.
So that’s one of the lessons for today. It’s our job — and that’s one of the lessons of the relationship between the United States and India.
Back when the President was a senator, he kept a picture of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of India, in his office. And it was before he was a senator, he was always a big supporter and admirer of Gandhi, because Gandhi inspired so many people — in India and all around the world — with his example of dignity and tolerance and peace. And with a simple call, Gandhi would say: To be the change we wish to see in the world — we are that change. We are that change.
So again, today is a celebration of the great ties between the world’s two largest democracies — that’s the United States and that’s India. But it’s also an opportunity to deepen those ties — and a reminder to be the change that each of us seeks — whether that’s in your home or in your school or in your community or in your country, you are all the change that we need.
So I’ll stop lecturing and I will now turn it over to Bill and to Tanya, who will talk a bit more about the history and protocol. And then we get to test out some of the food.
So again, we are proud to see you, happy to see you. We’re going to see you again in December, because we’re going to do some more fun stuff. I know we have three new mentees here. Can you guys, the new mentees, raise your hands? I see some new faces. Welcome. It’s good to have you. We’re going to have a lot of fun. Just ignore them, pretend that they’re not here. (Laughter.) And I’ll turn it over to Bill. Thank you guys, so much.