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The White House
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release

Remarks from First Lady Meeting with British Essay Contest Winners

11:05 A.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, first, let me just officially welcome you to the White House, to my house.  We're in the Old Family Dining Room, and this is the State Floor of the Residence, so this is where all the official functions happen.  And we live upstairs, two floors upstairs.  That's where our house is, and the TVs, and the dog, and the kids, and all that stuff.

But this, we do a lot of intimate events here.  I think yesterday the President had lunch with the King of Spain.  So that's the kind of stuff we do here.  I met with Congress here on a childhood obesity initiative. 

But on the rest of this floor this is where you do big press conferences.  Right here in the State Dining Room we're going to have the Governors Ball on Sunday.  We invite every governor from the states and their wives.  And then there's the Blue Room and the Red Room and the Green Room -- they're that color.  (Laughter.)  So hopefully before you guys leave you'll get to see everything.  And in the Blue Oval Room you'll be able to look out on the South Lawn, which is like our backyard.  So it's so good to have you.

As you know, we have entertained a lot of important guests here, people from your country.  Many of your Prime Ministers have been here.  The Queen has been here -- not since we've been here, but she's been here before.  And you all are just among the many important people that we've had, and I am just thrilled to have you guys here. 

STUDENTS:  Thank you.

MRS. OBAMA:  I really am thrilled and honored that you have taken time.

You know, when I was in the U.K. and visited the Elizabeth Garrett School, I had -- you know, that was one of the most memorable moments for me in my first year.  I've gotten to travel a lot of places, but the time that I spent with Nanah and her fellow students meant a lot to me because, as I said then, I see myself in you all -- you know, the possibilities.  And with you guys doing so well and working on these essays and making your way here, I mean, what you're doing is laying that foundation.  You're demonstrating to your families, to your teachers, to your communities that you're ready to put in the work and be serious and focused. 

And by doing that, the important thing is to know that you can do anything.  You can do anything.  We're living in a wonderful time where, you know, if you work hard and you develop important supports and resources -- and it can be anyone -- it may not be in your family, but it could be a teacher, it could be a pastor, it could be a neighbor -- that the opportunities are endless. 

And that was true for me, you know.  Never before would I have imagined that everything that I did up until this point would prepare me to be the First Lady of the United States.  But it really has, and it started with all the small stuff -- going to school, taking pride in my work, enjoying being the best at whatever I was going to do, practicing discipline early on, listening to my teachers, taking on opportunities to travel.  I never got to do anything like this when I was your age, but, you know, the fact that you have not only competed and won and were able to do this, but you had the courage to come and make it happen.

So I would just encourage you all to make the most of your time in high school.  Is everybody in high school?  Everybody is in high school, right?

STUDENT:  Not me.

MRS. OBAMA:  Not you?  I was like, are you in high school?  (Laughter.)  So you're starting early, which is good. 

But make the most of this time.  I tell my kids that this is practice for the rest of your life, because you don't wake up and become the person that you are.  President Obama didn't wake up to become who he is.  It was a lot of practice early on, of getting things done.  You're going to slip and fall and trip along the way.  He certainly did.  I did a little less than he did.  (Laughter.) 

But, you know, no one gets to where they are without a lot of mistakes, and I tell my kids that's the whole point.  Now you make the mistakes.  And be proud of those mistakes, you know.  And if you don't know what's going on, make some -- make sure people explain things to you.  Don't be afraid to not know, don't be afraid to be wrong, because now is the time to be wrong and to get a few things wrong, because you're just learning.  It's all practice.  But we're proud of you.  We're very proud and honored to have you with us. 

And the other thing that I'll just say is having you here is sort of where -- I know the President talked about moving the country through young people; you know, young people exchanging ideas, and traveling, and sharing, and by visiting the schools you've been visiting, and going to Howard, and seeing some historical sites.  You never know what impression you'll make on the kids that you meet here, because you -- if you haven't run into kids here already, they probably never even been to the U.K.  They probably don't even know what your world is like.

And what you learn as you get older is that so much of who we are is exactly the same, but for an accent or a location.  You'll find that your challenges are the same across the globe.  And you have an opportunity through your visits to inspire somebody here maybe to pick up a map and say, let me find out a little bit more about the U.K. or this community that you all are from; maybe I'll think about competing in an essay contest; maybe I'll think about studying abroad when I get to college; maybe I'll think about expanding my world, right?

So you have that opportunity to influence young people's lives here, and we hope to have more of our young people here in the United States visit many countries and do the same thing.

But remember when you go back that this is a special opportunity.  And one of the things that I try to do and tried to do along my life, throughout my life, is to look back and pull somebody along.  And it's never too early to do that, you know.  It could be a younger brother or a kid in your community, or a cousin.  Think about who you're going to help along, and never stop doing that. 

That's why mentoring is so important to me, because even being here as the First Lady I'm constantly thinking about who I'm going to bring with me; you know, who gets to see this, who gets to experience this life that I'm living. 

And if we all think like that, you know, just imagine what we can do in our communities, for kids who may not get to come on this trip, right?  But we can take this experience back to them, and you all can do the same thing.  That's the only thing I'd ask you guys to think about.

But it is really wonderful to have you here.  And we're excited.

But now I think we've got -- Curtly, you're going to do a little reading for us?  Why don't we do that.

(Curtly Mejias reads an excerpt from his winning essay.)

11:14 A.M. EST