It all began in the South Side of Chicago.
It has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America. In the 1960s, racial segregation was divisive and street gangs were rampant. It was a tough place to grow up.
This is where one little girl was born and raised. She lived in a small but comfortable home in which education was always the first priority for her family.
As a child, she attended Chicago’s public schools and, after graduating from eighth grade, she had one goal: to attend Whitney Young High School. Whitney Young was a magnet school for gifted children, but it also happened to be ninety minutes—one way—from the girl’s home. While this would stop most people from wanting to attend, it did not stop her. She was accepted and commuted to school for four years on two different bus routes each way. She graduated salutatorian of her class.
Her next goal was Princeton, but before even applying, she was advised against it by a high school guidance counselor who told her she was not “Princeton material.” Turns out, she was. After Princeton, her passion for justice led her to study law at Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. She worked hard, attained her degree, and practiced law at an elite law firm in downtown Chicago. It was there that she met and mentored a young associate who she later married.
The little girl from the South Side of Chicago had made it. Her name was Michelle Robinson, or as most people now know her, Michelle Obama, the first African-American First Lady of the United States.
As First Lady, Michelle used her platform to champion a number of causes that were near and dear to her, including the support of military families and prevention of childhood obesity. But her focus on education was especially close to her heart because education changed the course of her own life and gave her the opportunity and the voice to do the same for others. As a student, Michelle always thought that “being smart is cooler than anything in the world.” But millions of young girls around the world do not have that same chance. In response, Michelle and her husband created Let Girls Learn, a government initiative that helps educate adolescent girls in developing countries across the globe. Education is the key to a better tomorrow for these girls.
For Michelle Robinson Obama, education changed her life. She overcame the odds she faced growing up as an African-American female from the South Side of Chicago. She broke barriers and became a role model for girls—and people—everywhere.
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Author’s Note: Mrs. Obama tells her story in her new book, Becoming, that was just released. On her book tour, she sat down and shared candid thoughts with her audience. I had the good fortune to see her when she was in Los Angeles. She was smart, down-to-earth, funny, and inspirational. And, not surprisingly, one of her core messages for all the girls in the audience was the importance of education.
Photo Credit: Public Radio International