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Elizabeth G. Anderson School

Michelle Obama: A plea for education

April 4, 2009

Speaking at a London girls' school, Michelle Obama makes a passionate, personal case for each student to take education seriously. It is this new, brilliant generation, she says, that will close the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.

Michelle Obama - First Lady of the United States
First Lady Michelle Obama, a lawyer and administrator, is an advocate for working parents and education for girls all around the world. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
This is my first trip,
00:18
my first foreign trip as a first lady.
00:20
Can you believe that?
00:22
(Applause)
00:24
And while this is not my first visit to the U.K.,
00:34
I have to say that I am glad that this is my first official visit.
00:37
The special relationship between the United States and the U.K.
00:42
is based not only on the relationship between governments,
00:46
but the common language and the values that we share,
00:51
and I'm reminded of that by watching you all today.
00:54
During my visit I've been especially honored
00:58
to meet some of Britain's most extraordinary women --
01:02
women who are paving the way for all of you.
01:05
And I'm honored to meet you,
01:08
the future leaders of Great Britain and this world.
01:11
And although the circumstances of our lives may seem very distant,
01:17
with me standing here as the First Lady of the United States of America,
01:22
and you, just getting through school,
01:26
I want you to know that we have very much in common.
01:30
For nothing in my life's path
01:34
would have predicted that I'd be standing here
01:38
as the first African-American First Lady
01:40
of the United States of America.
01:43
There is nothing in my story that would land me here.
01:45
I wasn't raised with wealth or resources
01:50
or any social standing to speak of.
01:53
I was raised on the South Side of Chicago.
01:57
That's the real part of Chicago.
02:01
And I was the product of a working-class community.
02:04
My father was a city worker all of his life,
02:07
and my mother was a stay-at-home mom.
02:11
And she stayed at home to take care of me and my older brother.
02:13
Neither of them attended university.
02:18
My dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis
02:21
in the prime of his life.
02:24
But even as it got harder for him to walk
02:26
and get dressed in the morning --
02:29
I saw him struggle more and more --
02:31
my father never complained about his struggle.
02:33
He was grateful for what he had.
02:37
He just woke up a little earlier and worked a little harder.
02:39
And my brother and I were raised with all that you really need:
02:44
love, strong values
02:47
and a belief that with a good education
02:50
and a whole lot of hard work,
02:53
that there was nothing that we could not do.
02:55
I am an example of what's possible
02:58
when girls from the very beginning of their lives
03:02
are loved and nurtured by the people around them.
03:06
I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life:
03:11
grandmothers, teachers, aunts, cousins, neighbors,
03:15
who taught me about quiet strength and dignity.
03:20
And my mother, the most important role model in my life,
03:24
who lives with us at the White House
03:29
and helps to care for our two little daughters,
03:31
Malia and Sasha.
03:34
She's an active presence in their lives, as well as mine,
03:36
and is instilling in them
03:40
the same values that she taught me and my brother:
03:42
things like compassion, and integrity,
03:45
and confidence, and perseverance --
03:48
all of that wrapped up in an unconditional love
03:52
that only a grandmother can give.
03:55
I was also fortunate enough to be cherished and encouraged
03:58
by some strong male role models as well,
04:02
including my father, my brother, uncles and grandfathers.
04:07
The men in my life taught me some important things, as well.
04:10
They taught me about what a respectful relationship
04:15
should look like between men and women.
04:18
They taught me about what a strong marriage feels like:
04:22
that it's built on faith and commitment
04:26
and an admiration for each other's unique gifts.
04:29
They taught me about what it means
04:33
to be a father
04:35
and to raise a family.
04:37
And not only to invest in your own home
04:39
but to reach out and help raise kids
04:41
in the broader community.
04:46
And these were the same qualities
04:48
that I looked for in my own husband,
04:50
Barack Obama.
04:53
And when we first met,
04:56
one of the things that I remember is that he took me out on a date.
04:59
And his date was to go with him to a community meeting.
05:03
(Laughter)
05:06
I know, how romantic.
05:08
(Laughter)
05:10
But when we met, Barack was a community organizer.
05:13
He worked, helping people to find jobs
05:15
and to try to bring resources into struggling neighborhoods.
05:19
As he talked to the residents in that community center,
05:23
he talked about two concepts.
05:25
He talked about "the world as it is" and "the world as it should be."
05:27
And I talked about this throughout the entire campaign.
05:33
What he said, that all too often,
05:37
is that we accept the distance between those two ideas.
05:39
And sometimes we settle for the world as it is,
05:44
even when it doesn't reflect our values and aspirations.
05:48
But Barack reminded us on that day,
05:52
all of us in that room, that we all know
05:55
what our world should look like.
05:58
We know what fairness and justice and opportunity look like.
06:02
We all know.
06:05
And he urged the people in that meeting,
06:07
in that community,
06:09
to devote themselves to closing the gap
06:11
between those two ideas,
06:14
to work together to try to make the world as it is
06:16
and the world as it should be, one and the same.
06:20
And I think about that today because I am
06:24
reminded and convinced that all of you in this school
06:27
are very important parts of closing that gap.
06:31
You are the women who will build the world as it should be.
06:36
You're going to write the next chapter in history.
06:41
Not just for yourselves, but for your generation
06:43
and generations to come.
06:47
And that's why getting a good education
06:50
is so important.
06:52
That's why all of this that you're going through --
06:54
the ups and the downs, the teachers that you love and the teachers that you don't --
06:57
why it's so important.
07:01
Because communities and countries and ultimately the world
07:04
are only as strong as the health of their women.
07:07
And that's important to keep in mind.
07:12
Part of that health includes an outstanding education.
07:14
The difference between a struggling family and a healthy one
07:20
is often the presence of an empowered woman
07:25
or women at the center of that family.
07:28
The difference between a broken community and a thriving one
07:31
is often the healthy respect between men and women
07:34
who appreciate the contributions each other makes to society.
07:38
The difference between a languishing nation
07:43
and one that will flourish
07:46
is the recognition that we need equal access to education
07:48
for both boys and girls.
07:52
And this school, named after the U.K.'s first female doctor,
07:54
and the surrounding buildings named for Mexican artist Frida Kahlo,
07:59
Mary Seacole,
08:05
the Jamaican nurse known as the "black Florence Nightingale,"
08:07
and the English author, Emily Bronte,
08:11
honor women who fought sexism, racism and ignorance,
08:14
to pursue their passions to feed their own souls.
08:18
They allowed for no obstacles.
08:23
As the sign said back there, "without limitations."
08:26
They knew no other way to live
08:30
than to follow their dreams.
08:32
And having done so, these women
08:35
moved many obstacles.
08:40
And they opened many new doors
08:42
for millions of female doctors and nurses
08:44
and artists and authors,
08:47
all of whom have followed them.
08:50
And by getting a good education,
08:52
you too can control your own destiny.
08:55
Please remember that.
08:59
If you want to know the reason why I'm standing here,
09:02
it's because of education.
09:06
I never cut class. Sorry, I don't know if anybody is cutting class.
09:09
I never did it.
09:13
I loved getting As.
09:15
I liked being smart.
09:17
I liked being on time. I liked getting my work done.
09:19
I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world.
09:23
And you too, with these same values,
09:28
can control your own destiny.
09:30
You too can pave the way.
09:32
You too can realize your dreams,
09:35
and then your job is to reach back
09:37
and to help someone just like you do the same thing.
09:41
History proves that it doesn't matter
09:45
whether you come from a council estate
09:48
or a country estate.
09:50
Your success will be determined
09:52
by your own fortitude,
09:54
your own confidence, your own individual hard work.
09:57
That is true. That is the reality of the world that we live in.
10:01
You now have control over your own destiny.
10:05
And it won't be easy -- that's for sure.
10:08
But you have everything you need.
10:13
Everything you need to succeed,
10:15
you already have, right here.
10:18
My husband works in this big office.
10:21
They call it the Oval Office.
10:25
In the White House, there's the desk that he sits at --
10:28
it's called the Resolute desk.
10:30
It was built by the timber of Her Majesty's Ship Resolute
10:33
and given by Queen Victoria.
10:37
It's an enduring symbol of the friendship between our two nations.
10:40
And its name, Resolute,
10:45
is a reminder of the strength of character that's required
10:47
not only to lead a country,
10:51
but to live a life of purpose, as well.
10:53
And I hope in pursuing your dreams, you all remain resolute,
10:58
that you go forward without limits,
11:02
and that you use your talents -- because there are many; we've seen them;
11:05
it's there --
11:10
that you use them to create the world as it should be.
11:12
Because we are counting on you.
11:16
We are counting on every single one of you
11:19
to be the very best that you can be.
11:21
Because the world is big.
11:24
And it's full of challenges.
11:26
And we need strong, smart, confident young women
11:28
to stand up and take the reins.
11:32
We know you can do it. We love you. Thank you so much.
11:34
(Applause)
11:38

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Michelle Obama - First Lady of the United States
First Lady Michelle Obama, a lawyer and administrator, is an advocate for working parents and education for girls all around the world.

Why you should listen

Michelle Obama's life as First Lady of the United States is informed by her early life, growing up as the daughter of a pump operator for the Chicago water department. Though money was tight, her parents emphasized education and possibility for their two brilliant children. Both kids went to Princeton (her older brother, Craig Robinson, was a bond trader, then become a much-respected basketball coach at Brown and now Oregon State University); Michelle went on to Harvard Law School, and returned to Chicago to do corporate law at the firm where she met her future husband, Barack Obama. She left corporate law to become a civil servant, working in planning, social outreach and administration with the city of Chicago, AmeriCorps and the University of Chicago Medical Center.

While Michelle Obama's personal focus is on raising her own two children, Malia and Sasha, in the glare of White House life, her outward focus, as First Lady, revolves around issues of education and work-life balance; she's a passionate supporter of working mothers and for global education of women and girls. She's helping to lead the drive for national service, encouraging Americans to volunteer in their own communities. Follow her on Snapchat at @michelleobama.

Plus: Read what it was like to be in the audience for this surprise talk.

The original video is available on TED.com
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