Saluting Presidential Scholars

Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Press Office, (202) 401-1576,

Good evening, and welcome to what promises to be a phenomenal exhibition of talent by this year's United States Presidential Scholars in the Arts.

The United States Presidential Scholars Program represents the nation's highest honor for graduating seniors, and I've been so pleased to get to know them over the past couple of days. It is an affirmation, from the Office of the President, of the capacity for greatness in our nation's young people.

This event is a special celebration: an opportunity for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts—extraordinary young artists—to share their gifts with us, and to salute their fellow members of the Class of 2012.

Tonight's performance is possible because of a deep and longstanding partnership between the Commission on Presidential Scholars, our U.S. Department of Education, and the YoungArts Program of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.

Let me first thank the wonderful Commission Chair, Dr. Marina McCarthy, and all the Commissioners, for their vital leadership. Each year they devote considerable time and energy to the challenging task of choosing the Scholars from an exceptional pool of candidates—and to steering and improving the program.

The students they select are rising stars of academic and artistic achievement, leadership and service.

The Scholars are poised to make their mark on our nation in every field imaginable: the arts and humanities, science and technology, law and medicine, business and finance, education and government—to name a few.

It's because of the Commission—and the dedicated Department of Education staff who support them—that we're able to cheer the Scholars tonight.

It was President Carter who expanded this program to recognize up to 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, each year. And now, let me thank the exceptional organization that, for over 30 years, has helped us to implement that vision.

This organization is the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, through its nationally recognized YoungArts program.

I want to applaud YoungArts Chairman Marc Sheridan and Executive Director Paul Lehr.

And, I want to give special thanks to Co-founder and Trustee Lin Arison—who, together with her late husband, Ted, created this program in 1981.

Through their amazing generosity and vision in nurturing young artists, the Arisons have made an enormous impact on the American cultural landscape.

The YoungArts Program is the sole organization that nominates candidates to be named as U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts. And, their ongoing financial support makes it possible for young artists to have their work showcased and celebrated.

Each year, YoungArts collaborates with us to enable Scholars in the visual and literary arts to present their work at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum—and for Scholars in the performing arts to present this interdisciplinary performance at Kennedy Center.

To date, more than 600 YoungArts winners have been named U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, and have gone on to acclaim in every artistic discipline.

In addition to its great contributions to this program, YoungArts accepts thousands of applications annually from high school students in the visual, literary and performing arts, through its nationwide talent search.

Through its identification and recognition of America's most outstanding young artists, YoungArts has honored more than 16,000 young artists with more than $6 million; secured more than $100 million in scholarships to the nation's leading colleges, universities and conservatories; and each year publicizes and promotes the winners.

YoungArts offers students recognition, encouragement through master classes, a lifelong sense of community, and practical resources for success.

It opens doors by introducing applicants and alumni to a family of patrons, peers and mentors that they can turn to for help and support throughout their careers.

Now, let me close with a few words about the importance of providing every student in America with a well-rounded education. In the 21st Century, arts education is more important than ever. Creativity is essential to success in the global economy. To succeed in the future, America's children will need to be inventive, resourceful, and imaginative. The best way to foster that spark of genius is through arts education.

As a parent, I've seen the amazing ability of arts educators to enrich the learning of my daughter and son, who attend a local public elementary school.

I've also seen the power of arts education as an education leader. As CEO of Chicago Public Schools, I became convinced that arts education is a critical part of school reform.

Working with the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education, we brought local artists and teachers into our schools to partner up on integrating arts curriculum with academic subjects.

Studies showed that students at CAPE schools performed better on standardized assessments than peers in schools that did not integrate arts and sciences.

What's more, CAPE schools showed positive changes in school culture, enabling students to thrive academically, socially, and artistically.

Students—all students—should have the opportunity to experience the arts in deep and meaningful ways. The opportunity to learn about the arts and to perform as artists is an essential part of a well-rounded curriculum and complete education.

And, we all know research shows there's a link between arts education and achievement in other subjects. It suggests that a well-rounded education equips all students with tools that will help them excel in just about every profession and endeavor.

President Obama and I both firmly believe that arts education is essential to winning the future for our country.

A well-rounded education that includes the arts from the earliest of ages helps to build innovative thinkers: those who'll be our nation's future leaders in science, technology, business, government and the nonprofit sectors, as well as those, like the performers you'll see tonight, who'll help sustain a diverse and vibrant culture in the U.S.—and nourish the heart and soul of humanity.

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