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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 30, 2007

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at the Sesame Workshop Fifth Annual Benefit Dinner
Cipriani 42nd Street
New York, New York

8:08 P.M. EDT

JENNA BUSH: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Fifth Annual Sesame Street Workshop. And thank you so much for coming to honor one of the world's best-loved TV programs, and one of our childhood favorites.

BARBARA BUSH: Like millions of families around the world, ours has special Sesame Street memories. Jenna and I filled many happy mornings watching Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, and Reading Rainbow, back to back. It was must-see TV -- for toddlers.

JENNA: We always looked forward to sunny days, where everything was A-okay, and we were especially excited to see the friends we'd meet.

BARBARA: My favorite Sesame Street character was the Cookie Monster. And I always liked math, even when I was very little, so I always loved the Count.

JENNA: And I always loved Oscar. He was my favorite. (Laughter.)

BARBARA: That explains so much. (Laughter.)

JENNA: The lessons we learned from our mornings with Sesame Street were reaffirmed every night when our mom and dad would read aloud to us from our favorite books. Every day they were teaching us the importance of education. Those early lessons made me want to pursue teaching. I even went on to use Sesame Street in my bilingual classroom in inner-city Washington, D.C. My students and I would sing to the Spanish song, Rosita and Elmo Sing "Tu Me Gustas" every single day. (Singing.) "Tu me gustas, that means I like you."

BARBARA: She got it stuck in her head. (Laughter.) And then she got it stuck in all of our heads. Thanks for that, sister.

JENNA: One thing Barbara and I remember from our childhood is how our love of learning was shaped by our mom. It really was her example that prompted me to become a teacher. Barbara and I have witnessed our mom's commitment to education throughout our lives.

BARBARA: I saw her dedication last year at Ghana's Accra Teacher Training College. My mom encouraged students who were preparing to become teachers, and she launched her program to distribute millions of schoolbooks to African children.

JENNA: I saw my mom's commitment to education two years ago in Rwanda, when we visited the Fawe Girls' School. My mom spoke about the importance of education for boys and girls. And she encouraged the girls that were already in school to become the country's next generation of leaders.

BARBARA: We've seen our mom's passion for education at every school we visited with her, and in every child we watched her inspire.

JENNA: And the whole world knows her as a global advocate for education -- from her support to Afghan teachers, or to her effort to rebuild the Gulf Coast school libraries, and to her path as a teacher and a librarian, and also to her work with other first ladies to make sure that every child in every country can learn to read.

BARBARA: We're so proud of our mom, and we can't think of anyone better to receive this year's Sesame Workshop honors. Ladies and gentlemen, our country's First Lady, and Jenna's and my favorite reading partner, teacher, friend and mom -- Laura Bush. (Applause.)

MRS. BUSH: Thank you all. Thank you very much for the very warm welcome. And thank you, Barbara and Jenna, for your introduction. When Barbara and Jenna were little girls, we loved to watch Sesame Street. Big Bird, Oscar and the rest of the gang will always have a special place in our hearts as they do in the hearts of families across our country and around the world.

I'm pleased to be here with this evening's host, Matt Lauer, and everyone's favorite red furry monster. Elmo first appeared on Sesame Street in 1984, yet Elmo still doesn't look a day over three and a half. (Laughter.) Elmo and I have been through a lot together, as you can tell from the video. We've chatted with world-class authors, and we've met with royalty. We appeared together on Sesame Street where Elmo and I taught children the sound of the letter "W." I thought they gave me a very appropriate letter. (Laughter.)

Tonight we're together to recognize Jim Rohr, who works tirelessly to improve access and quality of early childhood education. Congratulations, Jim, on this award. (Applause.)

And of course, none of us would be here tonight without Joan Ganz Cooney. Thank you, Joan, for giving the world Sesame Street. (Applause.)

From Egypt to India, Brazil to Bangladesh, Sesame Workshop reaches children in more than 120 countries. Children are learning to count, they're learning the days of the week and the colors of the rainbow because of Sesame's shows produced in their own languages and cultures.

Last year the Indian version of Sesame Street, Galli Galli Sim Sim, launched its first season. This past April, Alam Simsim celebrated 10 years of reaching Egyptian children with otherwise limited access to early education.

These shows teach children how to get along with their neighbors, how to practice good hygiene, and, most important, these shows are giving children the skills to learn how to read.

Reading is vital to improving lives around the world. Being able to read, and choosing what we read, is how we shape our beliefs, our minds and our characters. Fathers and mothers who can read can earn a living for themselves and their families. Literacy means self-reliance and independence, and it can even mean the difference between life and death. Parents who can read can understand warning signs, and read a label on a bottle of medicine.

Today, more than 800 million people are illiterate; 100 million children are not in school, which means they're not learning to read. And of the 700 million adults who cannot read a simple book, more than two-thirds of them are women.

Expanding opportunities for education requires hard work and dedication. And the people at Sesame Workshop continue to show this dedication.

Here in the United States, your show is the longest-running of any children's television program, with 8 million viewers tuning in every week. The 38th season of Sesame Street will debut this August, and I'm thrilled that its focus will be literacy. New episodes will feature segments on letter recognition, letter sounds, rhyming, and building vocabulary -- all the skills that are needed to develop good readers.

So tonight, I want to thank Sesame Workshop and all of its supporters for your commitment to education for children around the world and here at home.

I'm honored to receive this award, and I'm grateful for the work that you do to ensure opportunity for every child -- today, and for generations to come. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

END 8:17 P.M. EDT

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