President Obama spoke about Daniel Chester French during his remarks at the America’s Promise Alliance Education Event on March 1, 2010.
The reference to French came at the end of the President’s speech:
Now, there’s an old story that Colin [Powell] has told about a man named George Ellis, who lived about a hundred years ago. And George Ellis was a janitor. His job was to clean up after the artist Daniel Chester French. Some of you may have heard of French — he’s the one who carved the figure of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial.
So day after day, week after week, month after month, Ellis went about his job, barely uttering a word to Mr. French, other than say the occasional “hello” or “goodbye.” And then one day, just when French had nearly completed his masterpiece, Ellis spoke up. He said, “Mr. French, I have a question for you.” So the artist said, “What is it?” “Well, what I want to ask is how you knew all along that Mr. Lincoln was sitting inside that block of marble.”
And as Colin pointed out, that wasn’t a silly question. Because sometimes in this country and in our lives, we see blocks of marble and some people can see what’s inside and some people can’t. It was a question profound — it was a profound question about how we recognize the potential within each of us, and chisel away at what’s keeping it locked inside.