Remarks by the First Lady at Martin Luther King Middle School
11:22 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, merci beaucoup. Bonjour.
MRS. OBAMA: Comment ça va? Jerejef waa Martin Luther King. Teartu bi rafet-neu. (Applause.) It is such a pleasure and such an honor to be here in the land of teranga. (Applause.)
I want to start by thanking your wonderful First Lady, Madame Sall, for that very kind introduction. (Applause.) As fellow First Ladies -- and fellow mothers -- we both care deeply about the health and well-being of our next generation, and Madame Sall is doing tremendous work to help children all across this country, so I'm so glad that she could be with us today. (Applause.)
I also want to thank your principal, Principal Sall, for her incredible leadership to ensure that you all get the very best education possible. (Applause.)
But most of all, I want to recognize all of you, the extraordinary students of this outstanding school. You all are the reason I wanted to be here today, because I am so impressed and so inspired by all of you.
I’m impressed by your academic achievements; by how hard you’re studying, and how well you’re doing on your exams. I’m inspired by your leadership skills; by how you’re running your student government, meeting with so many prominent women leaders, and preparing yourselves to become the next generation of leaders in your community. (Applause.)
With your hard work and focus and diligence, you are following in the footsteps of so many of the distinguished alumnae of this school -- journalists like Diabou Bassane, businesswomen like Coumba Loum Thiam, and so many others. (Applause.)
As you continue on this path and graduate from this school, it is clear that you will be more than ready to take on the challenges both here in Senegal and around the world. (Applause.) You will be the ones who will make the scientific discoveries that cure disease. You will be the ones who will draft the laws that guide this country. You will be the ones who build the businesses that move Senegal forward for decades to come.
But of course, I know that what you all are doing here isn’t always easy. (Applause.) I know that some of you may be the first in your families to attend a school like Martin Luther King, so there might be people at home who don’t quite understand what you’re going through as you work to succeed here. And I know that for some of you, just sitting in these classrooms each day requires great sacrifices by your families.
I know a little bit about this from my own experience. See, like many of you, I didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of money. My parents had to work hard every day to support us, so they never had the chance to get the kind of education they wanted for themselves. But they had big dreams for me. And more than anything in the world, they wanted me to graduate from secondary school and attend a university. So they, too, made tremendous sacrifices to make that dream come true.
My father worked at the city water plant nearly every day of his life -- a job made more difficult because of his illness called Multiple Sclerosis, which damaged his muscles and made it harder for him to walk as he got older. But no matter how tired he was, no matter how much pain he was in, every morning, my father would pull himself out of bed would go to work to support our family. (Applause.)
And my father sacrificed and saved so that he could pay my university tuition. (Applause.) He even took out loans when he fell short. And let me tell you, there is not a day that goes by when I don’t feel the weight of my father’s sacrifice on my shoulders. (Applause.)
That was even more true when I was in school, like all of you. That’s why, day after day, I made sure I did everything in my power to make him proud. (Applause.) So I got up early to study. I stayed up late doing my homework. And despite my efforts, there were still plenty of people who doubted whether a girl from my humble background had what it took to succeed.
But I ignored the doubters and kept pushing forward. (Applause.) And I graduated from secondary school at the top of my class, and I went on to get a bachelor’s degree and graduate degree in law from two of the best universities in my country. And those degrees opened up so many opportunities for me to fulfill my dreams.
So over the course of my life, I've worked as a lawyer, as the director of a youth organization, and as vice president of a hospital. Because I had a good education, I was able to provide for my family, give back to my community, and now serve my country as First Lady.
So I know that it can take real courage to pursue your dreams, to come to this school, to pour yourself into your education, to envision possibilities for yourselves that no one could ever imagine. But don’t ever forget that by investing in your education, you are doing the very best thing you can do -- not just for yourselves, but for your children and your grandchildren. (Applause.) And you’re also doing the very best thing you can do for your country.
That is true here in Senegal, and in the United States, and across the globe. When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous. (Applause.) That’s why, here in your country and in my country as well, our leaders are working so hard to expand educational opportunities to more and more young people, especially our young girls.
So by making this critical investment in your education –- and in the future of your country –- you all are serving as role models not just for girls here in Senegal, but for girls in the United States and around the world. You all are role models for my daughters -- (applause) -- which is why I brought my older daughter as well as my niece here today, so that they could be as inspired by you as I am.
So if you ever start to doubt the choice that you made to pursue your education, if you ever start feeling frustrated or discouraged, I want you to think about all the young girls who are looking up to you and dreaming of following in your footsteps.
I also want you to remember the words of the man whose name graces your school. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, he said, “I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself.” So with every challenge you face, with every obstacle you overcome, you have the chance to transform yourself into someone truly extraordinary.
And finally, I want you to think of the great South African President, Nelson Mandela, who is very much in our thoughts and prayers right now. (Applause.) I want you to think about this -- if President Mandela could hold tight to his vision for his country’s future during the 27 years he spent in prison, then surely, you all can hold tight to your hopes for your own future.
If President Mandela could endure being confined to a tiny cell, being forced to perform back-breaking labor, being separated from the people he loved most in the world, then surely, all of us, we can keep showing up and doing our best -- showing up for school each day, studying as hard as you possibly can. Surely, you can seize the kind of opportunities Mandela fought for for all of us; surely, you can honor his legacy by leaving a proud legacy of your own.
That’s how I’ve tried to live my own life -- by honoring those who sacrificed for me, from my father all the way to heroes like President Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King. Every day, I do my best to make my life worthy of their sacrifice. (Applause.) And I know that all of you will continue to do the same in your lives, too.
And today, I want you to know just how proud I am of you. And all of us -- President Obama, I, your families, your teachers, your country’s leaders –- we all believe strongly in all of you. And we cannot wait to see everything you will do and achieve in the years ahead.
Merçi beaucoup. Thank you for hosting me today. And I wish you the very best of luck. Bonne chance. (Applause.)
11:32 A.M. EDT