“For me, education was power”: Michelle Obama pledges to spend her life working to keep girls in school

More than a policy issue.
More than a policy issue.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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First lady Michelle Obama has one key motivation driving her determined, longtime campaign to improve girls’ education in the US and beyond: Her own life.

“For me, education was power,” Obama wrote in a CNN op-ed on Tuesday (Oct. 11), in honor of the International Day of the Girl, an awareness initiative first declared by the United Nations in 2011. Obama’s parents didn’t go to college, nor did many others in the community in which she grew up—but through “a lot of hard work and plenty of financial aid,” she scored a spot at Princeton University as an undergrad and later studied at Harvard Law School. Both experiences, she wrote, offered unprecedented career opportunities, which she now wants to extend to girls all over.

“Unlike so many girls around the world, we have a voice,” Obama wrote, referring to those privileged enough in the US to have gotten an education. ”They’re counting on us, and I have no intention of letting them down. I plan to keep working on their behalf, not just for the rest of my time as first lady, but for the rest of my life.”

Last year, Obama launched the Let Girls Learn program to support adolescent girls’ education. The US government has pledged more than $1 billion to the initative, which is setting up education programming in more than 50 countries.

Obama is joined in her mission by husband and US president Barack Obama, who said in a statement today:

The progress we’ve made in the past 100 years, 50 years, and, yes, even the past eight years has made life significantly better for my daughters than it was for my grandmothers. And I say that not just as President, but also as a feminist.

Both Michelle and Barack Obama have been vocal champions of improvements in schooling for girls and boys alike: On the same day the first lady wrote about her personal connection to advancing girls’ education, president Obama announced new developments to his initiative for minority male students, including a partnership with Sprint offering free internet access to a million low-income high school students.