The President of the United States has a lot in common with Philadelphia schoolchildren, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a classroom full of them.
"He didn't know his dad," Sebelius, former governor of Kansas, said of President Obama. "He moved a lot. But he knew how important school was."
Sebelius, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Phila.) and Mayor Nutter watched the president's address to schoolchildren this afternoon at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, a K-8 school in Olney.
Sitting in a classroom with all the dignitaries was Teasia Squire, 12, a 7th grader. She sat up straight and never took her eyes off the big screen that projected the president's image into the room.
She was wowed by the speech, Teasia said.
"It was a wake up call," she said. "It was really good."
Her take away?
"We need to be in school, and we need to be our best," Teasia said.
Her social studies teacher, Crystal Gary-Nelson, was inspired by the message.
"I wrote down key quotes, and I'm going to post them throughout the year," Gary-Nelson said. "We're going to discuss this, and they'll have to take a pledge - 'This is what I pledge to do to help my nation.'"
Nutter dismissed the flap in some quarters over showing the speech as "adult nonsense."
Each of Philadelphia's 265 public schools "would love to have President Obama come and speak, in person," Nutter said.
Though technical difficulties made it difficult for the fourth graders at the new, $36 million H.B. Wilson School in Camden school to hear much of what Obama was saying in his address, the message still came through.
Apparently an overload of the C-Span feed allowed only a few coherent sentences to come through, but Marlaisha Young, 9, said she like what few sentences she heard.
"I like the words where he was saying don't drop out of school and get a good job," she said, explaining how she plans to go to college and then become a doctor. "I think the speech was nice, even if we didn't see it. We heard it."
About 10 minutes into the speech, someone in the room flipped on a radio, and then later switched to an audio feed on the computer that broadcast the ending of Obama's speech. Since the school opened today for the first time, the glitches were still being worked out, said an administrator, who didn't want to give out her name.
To help cut the ribbon, Gov. Corzine was there, and also sat in the tiny student seats to hear the speech with the kids.
"What do ya think – pretty inspirational?" the governor boomed, to the children sitting all around him. The president, he said, "expects all of you to work really hard this year," he told the students. "We love you and want you to do well."
Corzine said he also learned something from his experience with the children. "I learned we have some very bright people in this classroom," he said, adding that he expects them to do so well, the future will be bright and he'll be in good hands when he's old.
Teacher Erin Finnegan said that she would get a recording of Obama's speech and play it in its entirely tomorrow, when class resumes, since the children missed the beginning.
At Downingtown High School East in Exton, the speech was shown in classrooms and the cafeteria while students who didn't want to watch were allowed to sit in the gymnasium.
About 15 students chatted with each other in gym while the remainder of the school's 1,985 students watched in class or at lunch.
School officials had received a handful of calls from parents about the district's decision to show the speech,.
Principal Paul Hurley 3d described the positive and negative comments as either "You are going to show this." or "How can you show this?"
Students in an Honors U.S. History course watched together and then discussed the speech.
Teacher Tom Beccone asked the students to list basic principles discussed by Obama and whether or not hidden political messages were included in the speech.
Students said the president urged them to "stay in school," "work hard," "learn from your failures," and "find one thing you're passionate about and pursue it."
No hidden political messages were detected.
"Did you hear anything you haven't heard at home," Beccone asked.
The students shook their heads to say "No."