Michelle Obama to Disadvantaged Schoolgirls: I Fought Your Fight

The first lady teared up during her speech at an all-girls school in London.

(Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters)

Jun 17, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

As Michelle Obama stood in front of a rapt group of students in London, she saw a familiar reflection in the audience of girls.

“I look out at all you young women and I see myself,” the first lady said in a speech on Tuesday at the Mulberry School for Girls, The Washington Post reports. “In so many ways, your story is my story.”

Obama and her daughters traveled to the U.K. to promote her global education initiative, Let Girls Learn, and she found herself the recipient of enthusiastic cheers and applause when she entered the school located in the Tower Hamlets borough of London.

While the group of 11- to 18-year-old students—mainly Muslim Bangladeshi immigrants—might not seem to have much in common with the First Lady, she told stories of her own upbringing to relate to them.

She went on to detail some of the more difficult aspects of her childhood growing up in a small apartment in Chicago, with little time and privacy to focus on her studies. Attending an Ivy League university and becoming a successful lawyer seemed far out of reach.

“The fact that I was a girl and I was black—that certainly didn’t help things either,” she said.

The first lady acknowledged that the students likely faced racial and religious discrimination and may wonder “if anyone ever sees beyond your headscarf to see who you really are.”

With her long list of accolades as evidence of success from hard work, Obama told the girls that they can move past systematic barriers to achieve anything they desire.

For students at Mulberry School for Girls, the obstacles are plentiful. English is the second language for a majority of the students, whose low-income households put them on federal aid assistance, with 75 percent qualifying for free meals.

So, Why Should You Care? A 2015 survey of leading educators in the U.S. noted that problems at home, including poverty and family stress, are among the top roadblocks to students’ individual achievement. Yet, as Obama has stressed, education is the key tool necessary for girls’ success in the U.S., U.K., and developing nations.

Up to 62 million school-age girls around the world are not in school. Many in developing nations stay at home because of high tuition fees, fear of sexual assault on the walk to and from school, and household duties. Higher levels of education allow women to financially support their families and stimulate economic growth for an entire community.

Along with giving her inspiring speech, the first lady also met with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Harry. Together, they’re contributing $200 million to fund girls’ education in developing nations including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, The Guardian reports.

Making it to school every day might not be easy for these students, but Obama pressed the girls to keep on keeping on—and they are. The Mulberry School for Girls boasts a university matriculation rate higher than 80 percent.

“With an education from this amazing school,” Obama said, “you all have everything, everything, you need to rise above all of the noise and fulfill every last one of your dreams.”