Remarks by the First Lady After a Conversation with Girl Students
R.S. Caulfield School
6:32 P.M. GMT
MRS. OBAMA: First of all, let me just say how impressed I am with all of you, not just the types of stories you’ve told, but the way you did it -- with confidence and with pride. And that’s the beginning of becoming a leader -- just starting to do things that you don’t feel comfortable doing, but you push yourself to do it anyway.
When I was your age, if anyone had told me that I would be the First Lady of the United States of America, I would have laughed at them. Because growing up, in that space, there had never been an African American President, let alone an African American First Lady. So to be where I am today is basically doing what many people thought was impossible. And many people thought it was impossible up until my husband was elected. There were people in -- who didn’t think the country was ready for a black President. They wanted it. They wanted to believe, but they were afraid to believe because they didn’t want to be hurt and let down. But because we worked together in communities -- because, as people were growing -- that we were not being divided by race, he was elected, because he had a lot of support.
So my goal as First Lady was to make sure that I was the best First Lady I could be. I wanted to make my husband proud, my parents proud, and I wanted to make my community proud, and my daughters proud. So I made sure that every day, I came to my job, to the work that did -- that I brought a passion and confidence and trust. I wanted people to know that if I said I was going to do something, they could believe I would do that. If I made a commitment, I stood by that commitment -- and try to make it real.
Because when you become leaders, the most important thing you have is your word, your trust. That’s where respect comes from. Because people know when you say you’re going to do something, you do it, and you do it with love and you do it with what we call authenticity, that people know that your heart is real. And I try to operate from that place every single day.
Maybe those are some of my strengths, is the ability to just be me no matter where I am. And I encourage all of you to do that. You don’t have to be somebody different to be important. You’re important in your own right. Nobody wants you to act like a boy. People want and need to value you because of who you are, because of your story, because of your challenges. That’s what makes you unique. You want to be different. You want to be special. The fact that you’ve been able to overcome challenges -- and this is what I always talk -- that makes you smarter. That made me better, right? Because I had to overcome things that a lot of people who were in the same position never had to overcome.
So if I have weaknesses -- and I think we all have weaknesses, right? (Laughter.) Let me think -- my mother is laughing. (Laughter.) See, part of -- it’s like, I’m pretty confident. (Laughter.) But I think this is just -- having limited resources to do as much as you want to do. This is why leadership is important. Because you can’t do everything alone. Most things you can’t do by yourself, no matter how smart you are, no matter how much you care. You have to have people with you who are going to help you along the way.
And you never want to get to the point where you’re so strong that you don’t have anybody helping you. You can’t do this alone. And that’s something that I had to learn -- that it was okay to ask for help. It was okay to do things that were a little embarrassing. To not understand math, but to still keep trying. To ask questions even when I didn’t know the answer. Not being afraid to be wrong -- I had to learn how to do that. Because as a woman, we all think -- we all hide ourselves. We all worry -- when you see -- in the class, boys always raise their hand even if they don’t know what they’re talking about. They’ll talk and talk and talk, and we’ll wait and make sure that we’re absolutely right before we say anything.
We as women, we have to understand that we know more, just even instinctively, than we think we do. So we have to be brave enough to take that risk, and maybe fail at it, and be okay with failure. And I’ve had to learn how to be okay with failure. Because you don’t do anything great unless you’re willing to fail, and then overcome the things that happen when you fail.
6:40 P.M. GMT