Remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama at “Investing in Our Future,” a Symposium for Spouses on Advancement for Women and Girls in Africa
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
10:09 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Good morning. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you so much, everyone. Well, my name is Michelle Obama, and I am an African American woman. (Applause.) On behalf of myself and my husband, it is truly a pleasure and an honor to welcome you all here to Washington.
We have so many distinguished leaders here with us today. Of course, we have President Bush and Mrs. Bush who are here today, and I want to thank them both and the Bush Institute for their passionate leadership on the issues that we’re going to be discussing today.
I also want to recognize my dear friend, Dr. Jill Biden, who is here as well. She has been a tremendous partner over the past five and a half years, and I’m thrilled that she is here with us today.
And of course, most of all, I want to thank all of you for joining us at this event. We have a fabulous program lined up for you today, as you’ve heard. We’ll be discussing important issues, we’ll be hearing from renowned experts, and we’re going to be making some really exciting announcements about new initiatives across Africa. So this is going to be a really big day. This has been a day that’s been a part of a big week that’s been a part of a big couple of months, actually.
As you may know, the summit that your husbands are attending this week is the largest gathering of African leaders ever hosted by an American president. And about six weeks ago, 500 young leaders from across Africa arrived here in the United States to take part in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.
And I have to tell you that these young men and women are truly extraordinary. Many of them are barely half my age –- I don’t want to say that, but they’re young -- (laughter) -- and they’ve already founded NGOs, they’ve started their own businesses, they’ve risen to senior levels of their governments. And as part of the Mandela Fellowship, they have undertaken intensive academic coursework and leadership training at universities across America. And the passion, the intelligence, the dedication of these young leaders has inspired all of us here in the U.S. who have had the pleasure of spending any time with them.
I had the privilege of speaking with these fellows last week, and I met with a group of them who share my interest in girls’ education. And two of the fellows from that meeting will be doing a presentation today about their stories and their ideas. And I’m not going to steal any of their thunder, because they are remarkable individuals. But I can tell you this -- that while we talked about a range of issues, there was one theme we kept returning to. Again and again, these young people emphasized how important it is for them to have support from leaders in their governments. And this is the very same message that I hear so often from the young American leaders that I meet with.
These young people are working so hard in their communities. They’re facing so many challenges and obstacles. And they’re looking to all of us for inspiration. They’re looking to us to champion the issues they care about. And most of all, they’re looking to us to empower them to be part of the solution.
And that means that we all are going to need to do everything in our power to bring these young people to the table. We need to spend a lot of time with them, more time listening -– and I mean really listening –- to their voices, to their views so that we can understand the challenges that they’re facing through their eyes. And we need to learn from their experiences and from their expertise.
You see, these young people are developing all kinds of new technologies and social media strategies to address problems that our generation hasn’t yet solved. Whether it’s an app to fight cervical cancer or a new approach to clean energy, they’re coming up with solutions that we never could have dreamed of.
So the question is, can we and our governments learn from them and follow their lead? Can we embrace their ideas and incorporate them into policies and strategies? And in our work as First Ladies, First Spouses, can we find new ways to be more inclusive of these young people and show them that we truly value their voices?
And so many of you are already embracing the young leaders in your countries through your work –- whether it’s improving girls’ education, or fighting cervical cancer or HIV, or supporting microfinance. You all have the potential to inspire millions across the globe.
So it is my hope that today, we will rededicate ourselves to these efforts and commit to new efforts to lift up our young people. And I hope that you all will have a chance today to really connect with each other, and learn from each other, and hopefully be inspired by each other.
And with that, it is now my pleasure to begin a conversation with a First Lady who has long been an inspiration to me. Laura Bush set a high bar for me during her time in the White House, and she has continued to do outstanding work around the world since she and her husband left Washington. And I consider her not just a role model, but also a friend. And I’m thrilled that our conversation today will be moderated by another woman who I greatly respect and admire, one of America’s leading journalists, our friend, Cokie Roberts.
And with that, I will have them come out to the stage so that we can begin our conversation. Thank you so much for joining us. Enjoy the rest of the day. (Applause.)
10:16 A.M. EDT