First Lady Talks Academics, Careers With D.C. Students

By Lindsey Ellerson

Mar 19, 2009 3:22pm

ABC News’ Karen Travers and Yunji de Nies report:

First lady Michelle Obama had a candid conversation with a group of African-American students at Washington D.C.’s Anacostia High School this afternoon, telling them that when she was growing up, people told her, “You talk funny, you talk like a white girl.”

Speaking to the students about how she achieved success in school and in her career, Mrs. Obama said there was no magic to her story.

She described her working-class upbringing on the South Side of Chicago and told the students how it was important to her to get good grades, not because of her parents but because it was something she wanted for herself.

“I wanted an A, you know, I wanted to be smart, I wanted to be the person who had the right answer.  And I didn’t care whether it was cool, because I remember there were kids around my neighborhood who would say, "Ooh, you talk funny, you talk like a white girl,” the first lady said. “I heard that growing up my whole life. I was like, I don’t even know what that means, but you know what, I’m still getting my A.”

Michelle Obama went to Princeton University and earned her law degree at Harvard.

The first lady’s visit was part of a day of events for Women’s History Month that included outreach to local students and an evening event at the White House. 

She met with 13 Anacostia students who she said were selected because of their potential.

“I didn’t just want to the kids who had already arrived, but kids who were pushing to get to the next place,” she said.

Mrs. Obama said where she grew up, being smart “wasn’t necessarily the cool thing to be.” 

Speaking to a group that included at least one athlete, the first lady talked about her brother Craig’s experience playing basketball at Princeton and then professionally in Europe. She noted that he went to Princeton to get an education and later went on to get an MBA.

“He could have made choices about making basketball a bigger priority, but he always put education first,” she said.

The first lady offered the Anacostia students advice about how to get ahead and fielded some unusual questions like “Do you put your own makeup every day?” and “What do you do for fun?”

Mrs. Obama admitted that she has not seen a grown-up moving in a long time, that it’s all kids stuff these days. The first lady said she does her own makeup, except for special occasions.

Mrs. Obama kicked off the day with a White House gathering for the “women of excellence,” including musicians Alicia Keyes and Sheryl Crow, actress Phylicia Rashad and basketball star Lisa Leslie Lockwood.

This afternoon the group fanned out across the city and suburbs to visit area schools to talk with students about their career goals and ambitions. 

The first lady said this morning that an event like this, focusing on young girls, was one of her dreams during the campaign, when it became clear that her husband could be the next president.

“As I started thinking about the kinds of things that I wanted to see happen, this day was one of those things — gathering an amazing group of women together, and going out, and talking to young girls around this country,” she said in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room.

Mrs. Obama said the goal of this day of outreach was to share stories with young girls and show them how they “forged a path to some amazing things.”

“Our job is simple: Just be open, be honest, be real, be clear, and have fun,” she said.

Today’s events are part of the first lady’s continued efforts to reach out to the Washington D.C. community and open up the White House. Mrs. Obama said today that many of District’s students need to be reminded that the White House is not just some far off place, out of touch from the local community and its problems. 

“We’re close, this isn’t a distant relationship,” she said.

The first lady said that students need to be reminded “that they can imagine the people who live here and what goes on here, and that there’s a close connection between their lives and ours. And there’s nothing more powerful than going into their states and having that kind of conversation.”

Later this evening, Mrs. Obama will host these women and a group of DC area high school students for dinner and entertainment at the White House.

“Many young people will have never set foot in this place, never could have imagined that they’d be dining in the East Room with so many great people who will be joined by even more women.  But just imagine what they’re going to feel like at the end of this day. And then we can do this again and again and again,” she said this morning.

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