Obama Pushes College Graduation in Annual Back-to-School Speech

President Barack Obama delivered his third annual back-to-school speech to high school students, but college students might also want to take notes from his message.

“Just getting into college isn’t enough,” Obama said earlier today at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. “You need to graduate.”

Obama said that the United States is ranked 16th in the world with the number of young people with college degrees. He urged students to continue their education after they graduate high school.

“The fact of the matter is that 60 percent of jobs in the next decade will require more than a high school diploma,” he told the students. “That’s the world you’re walking into.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined the president on stage, and Washington Mayor Vincent Gray sat in the audience. Banneker’s principal, Anita Berger, enjoyed Obama’s speech and agrees that getting into college isn’t enough. Her high school has a 100 percent college acceptance rate.

“It’s not only about being accepted to college, but being able to finish college,” Berger said. “And we need to make sure that happens.”

Most college dropouts leave school because of financial burdens, according to a 2009 report by the Public Agenda. Having to work and make money while in school is the top reason young adults leave college, the non-profit research organization found. The second largest reason given is that they couldn’t afford tuition and fees.

Obama mentioned his efforts at making college affordable only one time during his speech. Instead of talking about a student’s financial obligations, Obama discussed the student’s academic responsibilities.

His speech focused on encouraging students to work hard, ask questions, take risks and persevere. Obama also told students that they should strive to be the best and that they should not to be embarrassed if they aren’t good at something right away.

The president admitted that he wasn’t always the best student and that he wasn’t too enamored by his ethics class.

Kendra Hazel, a senior at Banneker, can relate. “I kind of feel the same way about my math class,” Hazel said.

Hazel is taking the SAT in November and plans to graduate high school next spring. She hopes to attend Temple University, Pennsylvania State University or St. John’s University and go on to medical school to become a pediatrician.

The 17-year-old already feels the pressure of working while in school. She works part time at the National Capital Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking after school and on the weekends. She enjoys her job and says it is more for the experience than the money. However, she admits it’s hard to stay focused sometimes. “But you gotta do what you gotta do,” Hazel said.

Obama highlighted other students who, like Hazel, are trying to make  a difference in the world. He gave examples of students who are raising money for charity and even researching how to kill cancer cells.

“Nothing inspires me more than knowing young people are already making their marks,” Obama said. “You don’t have to wait to make a difference.”

Obama closed his back-to-school speech pushing students to reach their potential and increase their skill sets while in school to help the country and its struggling economy.

“With all of the challenges that our country faces today, we don’t just need you for the future,” Obama said. “We actually need you now.”