President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama addressed the nation's youth Tuesday in a back-to-school speech that challenged students to set goals, work hard and take responsibility for their education because they're vital to the nation's success.

"[A]t the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world — and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities," Obama said at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va. "And that's what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself."

The speech, which was announced last week and aired on C-SPAN and the White House website, elicited criticism from conservative organizations, who said it was a ploy to promote a political agenda and urged schools to boycott the broadcast of the speech — accusations that the White House dismissed as silly. Obama left it to each school's discretion whether to broadcast the speech.

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Stating that no career is attainable without a good education, the president cautioned students that if they quit school, they're also quitting on their country. "What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country," he said. "What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future." 

Obama recalled times from his childhood during which he "did some things I'm not proud of" and credits his late mother for encouraging him to work harder. He also relayed stories of three students who rose from dire circumstances to attend college as examples to never give up.

Furthermore, Obama noted that some of the most successful people in the world have endured failures, such as Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, whose manuscript was rejected 12 times, and Michael Jordan, who was cut from his high school basketball team. They rebounded "because they understand that you can't let your failures define you — you have to let them teach you," he said.

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"The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best," Obama said. "I expect great things from each of you. So don't let us down — don't let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it."

Read the full text of Obama's speech here.