- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

Christina Romer found herself in front of an audience of well-prepared students on Tuesday at the School Without Walls high school in Northwest. Mrs. Romer, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers at the White House, was given a warm welcome from students and faculty as she spoke to a full auditorium about a more personal aspect of President Obama’s national education address earlier that afternoon from Wakefield High School in Arlington.

“She was trying to relate to us,” said senior Twabech Mantemework, 16. “She let us know that we can go into college with one idea but come out with a different dream.”

As many students listened in the audience, the rest watched as the address was broadcast into their classrooms.

“Education has both private and social benefits,” Mrs. Romer said after speaking about her personal experience with education as a graduate of the College of William & Mary. She went on to encourage students to continue to work hard and stay focused - much as she had to do when she was in school.

“I found college very challenging,” said Mrs. Romer, who earned her doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I am where I am today because of the education I had. And when you find that field that you love, it becomes less work and more fun.”

She mentioned to students that education not only improves living standards but also has private benefits.

“Education is good for your perceived happiness,” Mrs. Romer said. “Keep doing what you’ve been doing. Your hard work will be worth it.”

After listening to the president’s remarks, students said what stood out most was Mr. Obama’s reference to persons who overcame personal tragedies and conquered limiting circumstances to become successful in the classroom. The students said they should not let failures define them. Instead, they would allow their failures to teach them.

They understood Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Romer’s messages of not taking any opportunity for granted.

“We should stand up and do what’s right, do what’s good,” said senior Daniel Bonsu, 16.

After listening to Mrs. Romer, the students began questioning her.

“I thought today was good,” said Twabech, adding that she better understands the relationship between baby boomers and the economy. She also said she is excited about graduating and attending college. “I’m motivated. It’s now or never.”

The question-and-answer session was loaded with economy-related issues - from bailout policies and unemployment to student loans and credit. Students wondered when the economy would start turning around and how the recession would affect them as teens and young adults.

“We’re bottoming out,” said Mrs. Romer, who advises the president on economic affairs. “It’s going to be a hard fall. … In three to five years from now, we’ll be much more back to normal.”

Mrs. Romer answered many questions from students as they passed the microphone up and down the rows - each with an interest in the economy. Instead of cheerleading the motives of a good education, she found herself advising a room full of high school students on the job and credit markets.

“The unemployment rate may hit 10 percent,” Mrs. Romer said. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress, but credit is still somewhat tight. We aren’t seeing loans being given like [they were] two to three years ago.”

As one student sat down, another would stand up, and the questions kept coming.

One student asked about China owning U.S. debt.

“The U.S. economy is a fundamentally strong, healthy economy, and China is perfectly happy holding our government bonds,” Mrs. Romer said.

When China was saving, Mrs. Romer told students, Americans were not. “We were consuming like crazy,” she said, and the government’s actions to promote economic recovery were necessary because the country was in a “free fall.”

Though the economy became the popular topic of the afternoon, the original message of working hard in school wasn’t forgotten.

Shakir Ghazi, a third-year instructor at School Without Walls who teaches humanities, observed the students during the session.

“Some kids really liked the [president’s] message and were really excited about it,” Mr. Ghazi said. “Some took [the speech] more personally than others.”

Certain parts of Mr. Obama’s speech stood out to different students and they would be discussed in classes like Mr. Ghazi’s.

“[I learned] it’s not about what you have, its what you do with what you have,” said Daniel, a Ghana native. “We have to take advantage of the opportunities we have.”

Senior Ted Jeoing of Incheon, South Korea, summed up the day’s message: “They’ll give us all they can, but it’s our responsibility to keep going.”

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