Remarks by the First Lady at Girls Inc. of Omaha Event
Century Link Center
12:31 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, wow. Thank you all so much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Rest yourselves. Oh, I am so thrilled to be here with all of you today. You cannot imagine. And look at this room. You all are amazing. I want to start by thanking Chanecia for that very sweet introduction. And first of all, you are absolutely right -- I have to meet Malia and Sasha’s boyfriends -- (laughter) -- before there’s any of that happening. And there’s a lot of discipline going on in our house as well. But let’s give Chanecia a round of applause. She was just amazing. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize a few people. I know that Mayor Suttle is here, and I wanted to say hello from afar; as well as Warren Buffett and his wife Astrid; and your wonderful executive director here at Girls Inc., Roberta Wilhelm. Absolutely. Yay! (Applause.)
And, of course, I have to give a huge thank you to Susie Buffett. (Applause.) Yes. Susie, your leadership here at Girls Inc., as well as your outstanding work to support our public schools, to invest in early childhood education, and to address issues like poverty and global women’s health, that has inspired us all. And we are so incredibly grateful for everything that you do for Girls Inc., for the Omaha community, and for our country. Yes, indeed. (Applause.)
And I also want to give a special shout-out to all of the young ladies that are joining us here at this luncheon -- because I want them to know that they are the reason that we’re here today. I am -- absolutely. (Applause.) I want you all to know that I am so proud of the work that you’re doing, working to get active and to eat healthy -- and from the looks of the video that you showed, it seems like you all are having a little fun while doing it, too.
And finally, I want to thank all of the rest of you here today -- all of the supporters, the volunteers and the staff of Girls Inc. Every day, because of all of you, girls all across this city are imagining new possibilities for themselves. You all are providing a safe environment for them to dance and to play, to read and to think, and just have fun and be themselves. You’re helping them build the relationships they’ll need to thrive -- connections with peers who understand, with adults who listen and offer encouragement, with role models who provide a real-life example of what is possible.
You’re showing these girls that being smart, strong, and bold isn’t just about getting good grades or staying out of trouble. It also means being a good friend, a good sister or daughter, a good citizen. It means taking care of your body by getting active and eating the right foods. It means giving back to your community and getting engaged with people all around you.
And every day, all of you are opening up new worlds to these girls. Because of you, they are doing things they probably never would have been able to do. They’re exploring museums, going to the theater. They’re traveling all over the country. They’re learning to read. They’re learning to balance a checkbook, to change the oil in their car. They’re even designing robots.
So with all of your activities and programs, more importantly, with all of the love and support that you pour into these girls, you’re not simply giving them something to do -- you’re giving them something to be. Maybe it’s a scientist, or a teacher. Yes, we got a few scientists in the room. Right on! (Laughter and applause.) Or a teacher, or a businesswoman. Maybe it’s being a good student, or class president, or a great teammate. Whatever it is, you’re showing them that they can be anything they dream of, as long as they stay true to who they are.
And we all know how important that is for young women.
We know how much pressure there is on our girls to fit in. And we know how many negative messages and images and stereotypes are out there about how they should look, how they should act.
But we also know what it takes for girls to rise above all that. It is possible. It takes supportive communities. It takes caring mentors, and safe places where they can learn and grow, and just be themselves for a while.
I mean, I’ve seen this in my own life. Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money. My parents never had the chance to go to college themselves. But they were determined to see me and my brother get a good education. So they did what so many parents are doing out there: They worked, they saved, and they sacrificed everything. They pushed me to get my homework done, and they encouraged me to pursue the things that I loved. And no matter what was going on in our lives, it was always, always clear to me that my parents truly believed in me, and they believed in who I could become. It was always clear to me that my mom and dad were always in my corner. My mom still is. Who else would move to the White House? (Laughter.) Now, that’s love.
And because they told me that I was just as smart and as capable as anybody else, I started to believe it. Right? I started to believe it. It became a part of who I was.
And that’s exactly what you’re doing here at Girls Inc. Every single day, you’re giving girls the confidence they need to believe in themselves. They’re young girls like Fatuma, from right here in Omaha, who I just met. She was just seven years old, I understand, when she started coming to Girls Inc. almost three years ago. And I understand she didn’t speak a word of English. But through the Girls Inc. literacy program, she learned to read and speak so well that when she started school, the school’s English as a Second Language program just a year later, they told her that she was too advanced. (Applause.) Absolutely.
Then there are young women like Denai, who started coming to Girls Inc. here in Omaha when she was five years old. She dreamed of being a pediatrician. And today, I understand, she’s a freshman at UNL; she’s studying biology and pre-med. I also understand that a couple weeks ago, she was one of just two students at the university who was guaranteed a spot in the medicine program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center when she graduates. (Applause.) Yes, indeed.
And stories like these are happening not just here in Omaha, but all across the country. I’m thinking of a young woman named Bianca who goes to school in Washington, D.C. Now, Bianca grew up in Dallas. She lost her mom when she was just two years old, and she often had to step up to help her dad raise her two siblings. And they sometimes struggled to pay the bills, and at one point, Bianca and her family lived in a homeless shelter. But Girls Inc. gave her a place to just be a girl and pursue her interest in math and science. She went on to Howard University to study chemical engineering. She has volunteered in Kenya and the Sudan. She’s had internships with the Department of Defense and Carnegie Mellon University. And today, she is speaking on a panel at the White House to encourage other young women to pursue their passion for science and technology. (Applause.)
And here’s what she says -- these are her words -- she says, "Without Girls Inc., I would never have had these opportunities. I wouldn’t be ready to go on and change the world."
That’s why all of us are here today. That’s why I am so proud to be the Honorary Board Chair of Girls Inc. -- because I know that these girls will go on to change our world. They absolutely will. I know they will become the doctors and scientists who might one day cure cancer or find new ways to bring clean water to the developing world. They’ll become the entrepreneurs who will lead the industries of tomorrow. And they will become the teachers and professors who will inspire the next generation of leaders.
It couldn’t be more clear. The success of our economy and the success of our country is directly tied to the success of women. (Applause.) Today, women make up nearly 50 percent of our workforce. They own nearly 30 percent of our small businesses. They’re the majority of students in our college and graduate schools. And a growing number of women are their family’s breadwinners. So this isn’t just about lifting up girls. This is about lifting up America.
Now, more than ever before, our families, businesses -- absolutely -- (applause.) Now more than ever. And our communities, they depend on smart, strong, and bold women to lead the way. So we simply cannot afford to miss out on even one young woman’s potential -- can’t afford it. If the talent of one girl goes unrecognized, if one girl’s dreams go unrealized, if one girl is denied opportunities for reasons that have nothing to do with her talent or character or work ethic, then we all miss out. We are all diminished.
That’s why it’s up to every single one of us to life up these girls. We all have a role to play in helping them fulfill their potential and pursue their dreams. And that’s something that you all have recognized here in Omaha for the past 37 years.
Back then, it was just six girls coming together in a church basement. Wow. Today, you have thousands of girls participating in all sorts of outreach activities. And with each one of those girls, you’re living out the words of one of my predecessors, Lady Bird Johnson. And as she said, "Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." Right?
So I want to thank you all for proving that truth every single day. Thank you for believing in these girls, girls like me. Thank you for helping them believe in themselves. And thank you for loving them and supporting them every step of the way.
And finally, I’d like to end with a special message to all of the girls here. Are you all listening? Girls, are you listening?
MRS. OBAMA: Okay. Now, I know that all of you have a lot going on in your lives. And I know how hard you all are working at school. It’s hard work, right? I know how many responsibilities that you’re taking on at home. And I know that it’s not always easy. I also know that you might run into folks who doubt you, right? People who might dismiss you. Say you’re not ready, you’re not good enough, right? Or you might feel like doors are closed to you because of who you are or where you come from.
But I am here today, I came here specifically, to ask you to just keep on working. You guys hear me? I want you all to keep working. Keep on achieving. Just keep on using everything you’ve learned at Girls Inc. to pursue your dreams. Don’t waste any of it.
Because what you need to understand is what you’re getting at Girls Inc. -- the skills you’re learning, the talents you’re developing, the people you meet -- in the end, that is what matters. That’s all that matters. And know that no one can ever take that away from you. You hear me? And while you’re smart, strong and bold now -- you are, right? -- I know that you’re going to keep getting even smarter and even stronger and even bolder every single day. You going to do that for me?
MRS. OBAMA: So that is why I am proud of all of you. That’s why I am so hopeful. (Applause.) And that is why I am hopeful about our country’s future. Because when we think about the promise of America, I’m thinking about girls like all of you. So keep on working. Keep that passion and that spirit that makes you who you are. And keep on believing in yourselves because I certainly do. And everyone in this room believes in you. And we can’t wait to see what you’ll do with your lives in the years ahead.
Love you all. Thank you. God bless. (Applause.)
MS. CHOICE: And now, a few of the Girls Inc. members have a few questions for First Lady Obama.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, scary. Oh, you’re there.
Q My name is Elijiana Parker (ph) and I’m 13 years old. What are some words of advice that you would have for a girl who wants to be in the position that you hold now? (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Good question. Well, some of it I said at the end of the speech. Some of it is, first of all, keep believing in yourself. And that seems simple, right? That seems like simple advice, but it can be hard at times. But one of the things that I tell my girls is that you have to practice who you want to be every single day. You have to practice that every single day. (Applause.) So you can’t wake up in 20 years and expect to be a disciplined person, a good friend, someone who treats others with respect, someone who’s reliable. You don’t wake up and become that person. You practice it every single day with every interaction that you have. You apply everything you have to it, like you’re fighting for every last bit of it, right?
So who you are today really does matter -- what kind of student you are. Are you putting your best efforts into your school work? Are you trying new things? Are you treating others with the kind of respect you want back? Are you informed and engaged in the world? Do you know how to have fun? Do you know how to laugh at yourself? Do you know how to take a punch and get up?
I mean, I tell my kids every day, it’s easy to get the A. You don’t have to react when you get the A -- that’s easy. The question is, what happens when you get the D or the C? How do you respond? Do you shrivel up, or do you get back up and figure out how to improve? That’s resilience. But you’ve got to practice that.
So who you all are today, what you’re doing today, how you relate to people -- that matters. So think about that. And don’t be afraid to dream big. You have to see yourself in a place. You have to be able to see yourself as that scientist, as the next President of the United States. You can be First Lady if you want to, but there’s also the presidency. (Laughter and applause.)
Q My name is Aviera Pittman, I am 12 years old. Do you believe you are strong, smart and bold, and why?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh. (Laughter.) Yes, absolutely, right? I’m strong, smart and bold. (Applause.) You know, I shared that story -- I think I believed in it because others believed in it. I had a mom and dad who had high expectations that were accompanied with a lot of unconditional love and support.
And when you’ve got people in your ear telling you that you’re wonderful, you start believing it. And that’s why what you have here at Girls Inc. is so important. Believe what people are saying about you. Believe that. Take in that good energy. Own it. Hug it. Accept it. All the good things you hear, the positive messages -- take those. Put the negative things aside, because that’s always going to be there. There’s always going to be -- what do we call it, girls? There’s always going to be haters out there? (Laughter.) Don’t focus on that.
Focus on the people in your life who give you positive reinforcement. And it doesn’t have to be a parent. It can be anybody. I was lucky enough to have parents, but I also had some great teachers and mentors and people in my life that I would pull them in if I got some good energy, I’d just keep pulling on it. So gravitate to the positive. Stay away from the haters, okay? (Laughter and applause.)
Q My name is Aria Renee Green (ph), I am nine years old. Why do you eat your meals from your very own garden?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, it’s a good question. Because they are so delicious. (Laughter.) No, seriously. Because one of the reasons we planted the garden was to begin a conversation about healthy eating and how to get kids to put more vegetables in their diets.
And one of the things that I learned with my kids was that when food was grown fresh, if you got it from your garden or from a farmer’s market or from a fresh produce section, it tastes better. So it tastes pretty good.
And I wanted to pass on those messages to all kids in this country. I didn’t just want my girls to grow up healthy. I want all of our girls to grow up healthy. So we have to have this conversation about good health. We want to make sure you understand what you’re learning here at Girls Inc. -- that it’s not just important what goes into your head, but you have to take care of your entire body and nourish it, and treat it as the temple that it is. You’ve got to put good stuff in there. And you’ve got to move it. You got to build up your muscles. (Applause.)
Thank you, sweetie.
All right, I think that’s it. I’m going to come down and shake some hands, okay? You all right? Thank you all.
12:52 P.M. CDT