READ – Full remarks by U.S. First Lady Jill Biden at Middle High School, Department of Defense Education Activity School Naples, Italy

November 1, 2021

Thank you, Jazlyn. There are many different types of service—and as Commanding Officer of the Junior ROTC program, you are a leader here at Naples. But I’m also so glad you plan to continue to serve by becoming a teacher and helping other military kids like yourself.

Good afternoon, Wildcats! As a graduate of Villanova, I am a Wildcat, too, so I’m especially excited to be here—and to see all of this school spirit!

Before I start, I want to congratulate the volleyball teams on a great job in the championship this weekend, and the football team for their big win. You’ve all made your school so proud!

The Bidens are a military family. In fact, my father served as a Navy Signalman in World War II—though it was before I was born.

And my son, Beau, was a Major in the Delaware Army National Guard. Beau served in Iraq for a year, and when he was deployed, I saw the challenges my grandkids faced. His son, Hunter, was just a baby, but his daughter, Natalie, was old enough to miss him, every day.

Like many of your families, we all did our best to make up for his absence… with video calls to her dad and extra big birthday celebrations. Her teacher even put up a photograph of Beau’s unit, so she could see him when she was at school. It meant so much that her whole class knew he was courageously serving his country.

But we couldn’t fill the empty chair at dinner time. No one could but her daddy.

I once asked Natalie what she would tell a child like herself, whose mom or dad was going to be deployed, and she said, “Nana, I wouldn’t tell her anything because I wouldn’t want her to be sad.”

Not everyone knows what it’s like to be in your shoes. You face unique challenges—and your stories don’t always get told.

So when I was Second Lady, I wrote a book for kids like my grandchildren, called “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops.” And I launched the Joining Forces initiative, to support military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors. One of our main goals was to help people understand what it’s like to be a military student and to get kids like you the support you deserve.

I’ve worked on supporting military families for ten years now. And on bases and at schools like this one… at the White House and in communities across the United States… I’ve heard your stories.

I’ve heard what it’s like to work so hard to become captain of your sports team or the lead in your school play… only to say good bye and realize your next school doesn’t have the program you love.

What it’s like to leave behind best friends and wonder if you’ll be able to keep in touch.

What it’s like to stay up late, worrying about the safety of someone you love most in the world.

But I’ve also heard about the great parts of this journey:

The chance to experience life in a foreign country and meet people from around the world.

Friendships that are close enough to span the many miles between you—that take more work than walking next door, but are worth it, just the same.

Learning to adapt to any situation and finding you are capable of more than you thought.

This life is unlike any other. You face different challenges from most kids your age—challenges your parents and teachers can’t shield you from, no matter how hard we try.

Parents, I know there have been moments when you’ve asked yourself if you made the right choice for your child during your service. Maybe it was re-enlisting, knowing that it would mean yet another elementary school… or watching them have to make new friends all over again.  

And yet, when you look at them today, I hope that question is answered for you.

I hope you see how the path you’ve chosen has made them the incredible people they have become—people who are ready for whatever the world has in store for them. Isn’t that what all parents want for our children?

Military students are unique. That’s your strength.

The lessons you’ve learned have made you strong, wise, kind, and courageous. The experiences you’ve had are the gifts you have to give. You have so much to teach us all.

And that’s why we have to tell your stories. So, today, I’d like to hear from you.

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