Today, through the wonders of technology, we brought together students here in South Africa with students across the U.S. who joined us through a Google+ Hangout for a lively town hall about the importance of education. Singer and songwriter John Legend – who’s passionate about improving education – joined us from Los Angeles. And singer and actress, Victoria Justice – who works with an organization called Girl Up that empowers girls around the world – beamed in from Houston.
I kicked off this event by talking about how, in both the U.S. and South Africa, young people have always played such a vital role in shaping our history. I then gave two examples – the Soweto Uprising here in South Africa, and the plight of the Little Rock Nine here in the U.S. – to illustrate that point. In both cases, young people risked their lives to get a better education for themselves and for kids all across our two countries. I also talked about President Mandela and how, if he could endure being confined to a tiny prison cell for nearly three decades, but still hold tight to his vision for his country’s future, then surely, we can all work hard to make the most of the opportunities he fought for.
After I spoke, I turned things over to our moderator, South African MTV Base VJ Sizwe Dholomo, who opened up the floor to the students – and let me tell you, they blew me away! We heard from students in South Africa including:
- A young man named Aubrey who said that while he comes from a humble background, it’s not your background that determines where you’ll go in life, “It’s your dreams that will take you to a better future.”
- A young woman named Kamo who’s volunteering at, and raising money for, a shelter for girls who’ve been sexually exploited. She is being raised by a single mother and expressed her gratitude for all the sacrifices her mother has made so that she can get a good education.
- A young man named Tebogo who, inspired by President Mandela’s life of service, is determined to serve his country as a teacher – as he put it, “Teachers are there first and foremost to inspire us.”
- A young woman named Mirriam who dreams of becoming an Emergency Room doctor and is part of an organization called Cloud Dog which identifies problems in her community and works to solve them.
We also heard from kids in the U.S., including kids at the YMCA in New York City who travel around the world as part of a Global Teen Program; girls in Houston who are part of Girl Up; and kids in Kansas City and Los Angeles as well.
These young people are amazing! With their commitment to education, I know they'll change the world. -mo pic.twitter.com/mTWtBQMJyJ— FLOTUS (@FLOTUS) June 29, 2013
These young people live halfway around the world from each other, but over the course of our conversation, it was clear that they all have so much in common: their commitment to getting a good education; their passion for serving their communities; their desire to step up and play a part in shaping history just like generations of young people before them.
That is the power of technology: to make the distance of an ocean disappear with the touch of a button, connecting us across continents so that we can listen to each other, learn from each other, and see how much we all have in common. That is so important, because I want young people like you to think of yourselves as citizens of the world. So I hope you’ll use technologies like Google+ Hangouts, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and others to continue this conversation and keep on learning from – and being inspired by – kids all across the globe.
Michelle Obama is the First Lady of the United States