Remarks by the First Lady at BET's "Black Girls Rock!" Event
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
Newark, New Jersey
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much to Beverly; to my dear friend, Debra. I am so excited to be here -- (applause) -- at Black Girls Rock! (Applause.)
To all the young women here tonight and all across the country, let me say those words again -- black girls rock! (Applause.) We rock! (Applause.) We rock! (Applause.) No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are beautiful. You are powerful. You are brilliant. You are funny. Let me tell you, I am so proud of you. My husband, your President, is so proud of you. (Applause.) And we have such big hopes and dreams for every single one of you.
Now, I know that’s not always the message that you get from the world. I know there are voices that tell you that you’re not good enough, that you have to look a certain way, act a certain way; that if you speak up, you’re too loud; if you step up to lead, you’re being bossy.
You see, when I was a girl, I had parents who loved me and believed in me, but those doubts still worked their way inside my head and my heart. And I was always worried about something: Does my hair look right? Am I too tall? Do I raise my hand too much in class? So when folks said that a girl like me shouldn’t aspire to go to the very best colleges in this country, I thought, maybe they’re right. But eventually, I learned that each of those doubts was like a little test -- a challenge that either I could shrink away from or rise up to meet.
And I decided to rise. (Applause.) Yes, I decided to rewrite those tired old scripts that define too many of us. I decided that I wasn’t bossy -- I was confident and strong. (Applause.) I wasn’t loud -- I was a young woman with something important to say. (Applause.) And when I looked into the mirror, I saw a tall and smart and beautiful black girl. (Applause.) And that, more than anything else, is what I want all of you to know. I want that for you. I want you to live life on your own terms, according to your own script.
I want you to use those tests in your lives today to make you stronger for the bigger challenges tomorrow. Because, trust me, those challenges will come. No one just glides their way from success to success -- not me, not the President, not anyone being honored here tonight. Anyone who has achieved anything in life knows that challenges and failures are necessary components of success. (Applause.) They know that when things get hard, that’s not always a sign that you’re doing something wrong, it’s often a sign that you’re doing something right. (Applause.) Because those hard times are what shape you into the person you’re meant to be.
And tonight, we’ve got three young women here who are living, breathing examples of that fundamental truth. So let’s welcome back to the stage this year’s MAD Girls: Kaya Thomas, Chental-Song Bembry, and Gabrielle Jordan. (Applause.) I am so proud of these young women -- (applause) -- for the lives they are leading, for the lives they are transforming in their communities.
But let me tell you something. I am sure that in the process of achieving all that they’ve achieved that they have faced plenty of obstacles. I am sure that they heard plenty of voices telling them that their dreams were too big, or too hard, or not the right kind of dreams for girls like them. See, but these girls didn’t listen to those voices. They listened to their own voices. They held fast to their own dreams. And most importantly, they prepared themselves to achieve those dreams by working hard in school and getting their education. (Applause.)
So one message that I want to leave you with tonight is this: The secret to everything in life -- every aspiration, every opportunity -- is education. (Applause.) It’s education. There is nothing more important than being serious about your education.
That’s the reason I am able to stand here tonight -- because look, I worked hard in school. Education was cool for me. (Applause.) I did my best on every test, every paper, every test, every homework assignment. (Applause.)
And I want every single one of our black girls to do the same -- and our black boys. (Applause.) I want them to do that all the way through high school, then college, and then beyond. I want you to work as hard as you can, learn as much as you can.
That is how you’ll go from being black girls who rock to being black women who rock. (Applause.) That is how you will unleash the genius and the power and the passion required to rock your communities, to rock our country, to rock this world.
I love you all. (Applause.) I believe in you all. (Applause.) And I am confident that you all will shine brightly, lighting the way for generations of girls to come.
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)