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The White House

Remarks by the First Lady at Howard University

Howard University
Washington, D.C.
11:31 A.M. EST
February 11, 2009

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, Victoria. (Applause.) I want to also thank the First Lady of this great university, Dr. Whetsel-Ribeau. We're both new to this town and to these roles, so I look forward to being able to talk to you more about how we adjust to this wonderful responsibility that we both have. Thank you for having me.

I also want to thank all of the other university officials, all the students, the staff, everybody who worked to pull this together. I want to thank the panelists for letting me open up this wonderful conversation. I am here to listen more so than to talk, so I am so excited to hear your perspectives.

But I'm happy to be here because this issue is something that I have dealt with my whole life, trying to figure out how to juggle work-family balance in the process of getting an education. There isn't a day that goes by, particularly after having kids, that I don't wonder or worry about whether I'm doing the right thing for myself, for my family, for my girls.

So I think this issue is particularly important for us to tackle, not just as women but men, as well, because these conversations are going to help us shape our lives in the years to come.

And the one thing -- the one message that I have is for all of you struggling with this issue, is just remember there is no right answer. It took me a long time to figure that out. There is no one right way to do any of this. And the choices and the decisions will change, given your circumstances.

The person I was when I was in college is very different than the person that I am today. That person is very different than the person who was single and married. I was different when I was -- not -- but single and not married. I was different when I was married. I was different when I was married with kids. (Laughter.) I was different when I was married with kids in certain types of jobs. And every step of the way, I wondered whether I was doing the right thing.

So know that in your struggle to figure these things out as women, as professionals, that you have to do what's right for you at any given time, and that's going to change -- from week to week, from month to month, from year to year.

The question that I hate most that we ask of young people is, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" And the truth is, I still don't know, and I'm 45 years old. (Laughter.) All I know is that it's important for you to be true to yourselves, not to worry too much about what other people are going to think or make of your choices, because everyone will question what you do and tell you you should've done it the other way.

So I'm honored to be here. I'm interested in hearing what's going on. But more importantly, Barack and I are just excited to be a part of this community, our new community in Washington, D.C. And for the first few weeks that I've been here -- if you watch any TV, I'm sure you have seen everything that I do. I feel really redundant sharing with people what I do -- (laughter) -- because folks are like, yes, I know, I saw you on TV. (Laughter.) And I'm like, that's right, I forgot. (Laughter).

But I have been visiting many of the agencies around town, but also trying to get out into the community, because we believe that our first job as new members of this community is to listen and to learn, and to be thankful and grateful for what people have already done. We're looking forward to doing that more and more over the course of the next several months and years to come. Howard is a great institution in this city and in this country. You have produced outstanding people for decades and decades and decades, and I know you'll keep doing it.

And I look forward to being able to have more of these kinds of conversations in even more intimate settings, where we can really talk and break it down. So I hope that you invite me back often. I will be happy to return. Thank you so much. (Applause.)