Michelle Obama appears on the April cover of Vogue magazine and inside, she and President Barack Obama talked about their life as parents, their marriage, and their vision for America’s families. Michelle Obama said, “I think we are accountable to each other for being who we are,” while the President adds, “We’re a team.”
Can you tell that I love this couple? LOL... Their article reminded me of back in 2011 when First lady Michelle Obama spoke with female secondary school students, young girls interested in Science but who were not meeting their potential. These girls, between 13 and 15, were participating in an immersion experience at the University of Oxford. The first lady was kind enough to graciously answer all their questions on a variety of topics.
She confessed that she had not envisaged that Barack Obama would become president when they first met, but that she had seen other special qualities in him. She answered questions on self-esteem, mentoring other young women, and living in the White House as a mother with two young daughters. She even talked about how important reading and writing were. Below are some excerpts from the interview transcript.
Q I’m Seren, I’m 13 years old, and my question is, when you first met the President, did you think that he would go on to achieve such great things?
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely not. No, I’m just kidding. You know, that's the thing about visioning. So, honestly, when I met him, I knew he was special. And it had nothing to do with his education. It had nothing to do with his potential. And I say this to young women: Don’t check off [boxes] there are a lot of women who have the boxes. Did he go to the right school? What is his income?
It was none of that. It was how he felt about his mother; the love that he felt for his mother; his relationship to women; his work ethic. We worked together in a firm. He did his work, and he was good, and he was smart, and I liked that. And he was low-key. And he wasn’t impressed with himself. And he was funny. And we joked a lot. And he loved his little sister.
Those were the things -- and he was a community organizer. I really respected that. Here we are in a big law firm, right? And everybody was pushing to make money. He was one of the smartest students at Harvard Law School, one of the smartest associates in our firm. He had the chance to clerk for the Supreme Court. And I thought, well, you’re definitely going to do that, right? Only a few people even have the chance to do that. And he was like, I mean, not really; I think I can do more work working with folks in churches. And I was like, whoa, that's different. And he meant it. It wasn’t a line. He wasn’t trying to impress me.
It was those kind of values that made me think you don't meet people like that often. And when you couple that with talent, and he’s cute, you know, I always thought he would be useful.
But I had no idea he would be President. I didn’t think he was going to be President until the night we were standing on the stage and he actually won. I was like, gosh, look, you won.
But the lesson, particularly I think for women, in this is, reach for partners that make you better, you know? Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. And trust your instincts.
You know, good relationships feel good. They feel right. They don't hurt. They’re not painful. That's not just with somebody you want to marry, but it’s with the friends that you choose. It’s with the people you surround yourselves with. And that's just as important as the school that you choose. Who’s in your life, and do you respect them, and do they respect you? And are you respecting them. Right?
And we as women in particular -- and this is such an important message -- starting today, you all have to be supportive of each other. You can’t be jealous, and push and trip, you know? It’s hard enough. So in your lives now, whether you like somebody because of what -- be kind to each other. Support each other. There's room for everyone to succeed. And that has to start in your lives now. Right?
So that's, I think that's a key message for us as women. And if we do it to one another, then we’ll do it in the rest of the world -- is draw goodness to you, and that will help propel you. And I was fortunate to choose a good husband. But that goes for friendships, as well.
Q Hello. My name is Mary and I’m 14 years old. And my question is, during your studies, did you ever suffer from low self-esteem? And if so, who helped you the most?
MRS. OBAMA: Low self-esteem, doubt -- yeah, I talked about that, because I -- you know, I wasn’t sure, because other people told me that I might not be able to do well in school, for whatever reason. I was always a good student, I worked hard, but I thought there was some magic that happened that made you really -- you know, I didn’t know that it was just plain old hard work.
So there were periods of doubt, for sure, and I think we all -- I have doubts today. Doubts don't go away. You just learn how to deal with them. You start knowing yourself and you become more confident the more successes you have, the more chances you take. You don't let the failures or the stumbles define you.
Everybody falls every now and then. Some people fall a lot. And what I realize is that we have long lives, if we’re healthy and we do what we’re supposed to. I’m 47 years old. So think about it. Whatever mistake I made when I was 13, who cares? So think about life as a long trajectory.
But at the same time, you don't want to make huge mistakes, because when you’re young, making big, big mistakes can last forever, right? So you want to choose wisely.
But the stumbles, the lessons learned, that's part of life. That makes you grow. But I came to know that. I didn’t know that when I was your again. I thought every mistake was the end of the world. “I'll never be able to…I'll never get into school, never be…” -- you know, of course, we all feel that way. But just continue to work. Put the effort in.
And I think that has been some of what's helped me being First Lady. First of all, it’s knowing who you are and being confident in yourself, because there will be -- Clarissa worded it -- said, pushing beyond other people’s labels of you, right? That's a big part. That's what we do to each other all the time. We don't even know each other, and we already determine from one glance, meeting, one line, one word, one phrase, this is who you are.
So you have to know who you are before that. And you live that reality. And you keep living it out no matter what. And if you’re a good -- have good character and good intentions, that that ultimately shines through.
But in the end, it’s hard work. And I like to work hard. And I like to do good things. And you practice that now. And believe it or not -- I didn’t know it -- it prepared me to be the First Lady of the United States. I didn’t know. I guess I’m doing okay.
But you know what? Every day we just get up and keep doing what we think is the right thing. Right? Thanks.
Q Yeah, my name is Kristina, and I’m 13 years old, and I’m from London. And my question is, how is it different in raising your children now in the White House than before?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, that's a good question. A lot more cameras. You know, my philosophy about mothering and how I feel about being a mother hasn’t changed. That doesn’t change with the house you live in and the job that you have.
And truly I call myself Mom-in-Chief. It’s not because I don't value a career or my education. I am glad that I had the education that I do. I’m glad I have the accomplishments that I have. But truly the most important thing to me is raising strong women and raising my daughters well, probably because that's what my mother did for me. So I think that is the most important job that I will ever have. And it doesn’t really matter where we live.
But my husband and I, the President, we’re very protective to make sure they get privacy and normalcy. But we push them just as we would at any time. Our girls have responsibilities. We want to make sure they don't take anything for granted; that they’re grateful.
The things I tell my girls are the same things I tell all of you. Don't be afraid to fail. Don't be afraid to take risks. Learn to use your voice now. Ask questions. Ask stupid questions. Be laughed at. Get it wrong. Trip, fall, and then get back up. Do your homework. Do chores. Have responsibilities, because what I tell my kids -- you have to practice who you want to be. You know, you don't wake up one morning and you’re suddenly who you think you want to be. You have to put some energy into it.
So if you want to be an honest person, you have to be an honest person every day, even starting at three and four and five, right? If you’re going to be a hard worker, hard work doesn’t just appear. You have to practice hard work. You have to practice effort.
And I also encourage them and try to help them understand that good things don't come easy. With that effort, that's where you grow, that's where growth is. Some of the best times in my life, when I’ve grown, it’s when I’ve done something hard, when I’ve overcome a fear. You won’t realize that when you’re doing it, but when you come out on the other side, you realize, wow, I’ve really stepped up.
So I push my girls. And -- but more importantly, I love them a lot. And that's what I feel for all of you. I want you guys to feel that in your lives so that you can be excellent, okay? So it’s no different.
Q Hi, my name is Yasmin, I’m 14, I'm from London. My question is, as the First Lady of America, how do you feel -- how do you help others around the world?
MRS. OBAMA: How do I help others around the world? Well. I think sessions like this -- I’m hoping that it helps others around the world. I mean, mentoring young people around the world, not just in the United States, is a significant part of what my husband and I believe we should be doing -- giving all kids a chance to have some level of excellence and opportunity in their lives.
And we’ve started doing mentoring. One of the things I mentioned in my remarks is that it is so important, no matter where you are in your life, to think about how you’re helping those behind you, those younger than you, come up. And that's not just an American notion. That's what we need to be doing around the world. So mentoring is a big part of what gives us joy and pleasure and makes us feel accomplished, because it’s not enough for us to just sit in our success and advantage if we’re not doing everything we can as often as possible to bring others up, and I believe that's especially true for women around the world, women and young girls.
So these messages of hope and possibility and education and leadership and service and talking about that and shining these bright lights on models of that -- you know, I want the world to see you all, because there's going to be a set of girls looking at this, reading about this day. And even if they didn't get to be here, there's somewhere, maybe in a small village or in a city somewhere, they’re going to see you, and they’re going to feel some sense of possibility, even if they’re struggling or they’re challenged. My hope is that your stories resonate, because they can. Don't believe that this experience doesn’t matter to somebody beyond yourself. It can resonate here, in the U.K., and it can resonate around the world.
So that's a part of what we’re trying to do. But we need your help. So we need you to be ready. We need more mentoring. We need more young women pushing these doors open and getting into schools like this and other places.
I mean, Oxford is one of the most renowned universities, but there are outstanding universities and colleges that people haven’t even heard of that provide an excellent education.
So we’re pushing you to dream big because if you can see yourself here in Oxford, then you can see yourself anywhere, right? But, you know, don't feel like this is the only place to go. You have to get an education. You must get an education. You must be smart. You must be prepared. And that can happen anywhere. That can happen in community colleges, in small universities, in small cities. So that can happen anywhere. So those are some of the messages that we’re trying to push for on an international scale.
Q Well, thank you. Hello, my name is Aneesah Siddiqi. What do your children want to be when they grow up? Because I know that you are the First Lady. Do they aspire to be as high as that?
MRS. OBAMA: The one thing about your children is they never want to be like you. They want to be the opposite of you.
But the truth is they now know that they have no idea what they want to be. I think Malia tried to -- somebody asked her that question, and she started to answer, she had five answers -- this is when she was 11 -- and then she finally said, “I don't know. I’m 11.”
And you might say that for a very long time. But fortunately they understand they don't know what they want to be. But they know they aspire to go to great schools. That's what they’re starting to do now.
I don't think they understand -- Malia understands a little bit more than Sasha, but, again, my kids see the possibilities, so they aspire to the best, right? That's what we want you all to do, because they’re no different from you. It’s just they’ve set their bar really high already. But what they do know is that with that high bar, you’ve got -- that means you’ve got to work even harder, and you’ve got to be okay with working harder. And that means you’re going to stumble a little bit. If there's one thing I have to convince one of my children of is, you know, it’s not about getting the A, you know? It’s not always about getting the A.
It’s about learning, and it’s about loving learning. And sometimes the A won’t come because you take a course that pushes you, right, and it’s going to be hard, and you’re going to, again, stumble a little bit. But if you always just go for the grade, sometimes you’ll bypass what's interesting because you might not get a good grade in it, right? And I don't want you all to start doing that. It’s too early.
Read, write, read, read. If the President were here -- one of his greatest strengths is reading. That's one of the reasons why he’s a good communicator, why he’s such a good writer. He’s a voracious reader. So we’re trying to get our girls, no matter what, to just be -- to love reading and to challenge themselves with what they read, and not just read the gossip books but to push themselves beyond and do things that maybe they wouldn’t do. So I would encourage you all to read, read, read. Just keep reading.
And writing is another skill. It’s practice. It’s practice. The more you write, the better you get. Drafts -- our kids are learning the first draft means nothing. You’re going to do seven, 10 drafts. That's writing, it’s not failure, it’s not the teacher not liking you because it’s all marked up in red. When you get to be a good writer, you mark your own stuff in red, and you rewrite, and you rewrite, and you rewrite. That's what writing is.
And if you come out with those skills, and then you’re confident, and you can articulate, and you can stand up straight and look anybody in the eye and say, “This is who I am. It’s a pleasure to meet you” -- that's one of the things we try to do with our mentoring program with young girls.
My message to them is if you can walk into the White House and meet the First Lady and say, “My name is…how are you?” and look me in the eye, then there's nothing you can’t do. That's why it’s important -- if you guys walked here, are sitting here in front of all these people, standing tall, asking questions, using your voice -- you have to practice that. (Inaudible) just show up again and again, and you need to just get used to it. The nerves go away, and you start relaxing into your own abilities. But it’s practice.
That make sense? So that's what my girls -- we’re working on that. That's baseline stuff. They get that stuff down, and then whatever they want to be, it really doesn’t matter. They’ll just be good at it, right? Whatever they do, they’ll be passionate about it and they’ll be good at it.
Read the full interview transcript on the White House Blog