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Michelle Obama Is A Rock Star For Global Teen Activists

First lady Michelle Obama shares encouraging words at Girl Up Leadership Summit.
Molly Riley
First lady Michelle Obama shares encouraging words at Girl Up Leadership Summit.

She was only 15 minutes late. That's amazing! After all, she is the first lady of the United States. She has a busy schedule. She was scheduled to speak to the Girl Up Leadership Summit at 11:15 a.m. And by 11:27ish she was in the house.

"You all look amazing," Michelle Obama told the 200-plus activists who represent some of the world's 1,000 Girl Up clubs. They'd come to Washington, D.C., to bond, to learn about girls' issues and to lobby Congress.

(Readers, I know you want to know, so I'll tell you: Michelle Obama also looked amazing in a bright-orange, sleeveless shift with white side panels.)

Her speech was kind of amazing, too, because yes, she did what you'd expect. She praised Girl Up for its work promoting education for girls (which is one of Obama's priorities in the "Let Girls Learn" initiative) among other things.

But she also made two subtle and important points about activism.

Point No. 1: Activism should be personal. "Start with whatever issue moves you here" — she presses her hand to her heart, noting, "I want to tell you I'm passionate about the 62 million girls" who want to go to school but are unable to because of school fees or discrimination or the distance they'd have to travel.

Point No. 2: An activist who takes on a huge issue like girls' education could end up feeling "heartbroken, angry, overwhelmed." The key is to remember that you can't solve it all at once, Obama said. "We can approach this issue, one school, one village, one girl at a time. That's how you make change in this world."

She closed her 15 minutes of remarks by telling the teen activists: "I see myself in you. I see my daughters in you. When you become an old mother like me you will know what I mean."

And then the world's coolest old mother mingled with the adoring girls. And even though selfies were expressly discouraged by TV screens that flashed a hashtag something like: #noselfieswiththefirstlady ... well, you know there is no discouraging a girl activist.

"Did you get a selfie?" one girl asked a friend.

"Oh my God, I did," her friend said. "But I was too far so she's like looking at my camera. But it counts!"

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.
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