Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the Detroit Mentoring Luncheon in Detroit, Michigan

May 26, 2010

MRS. OBAMA: It's good to see you. You all please sit down. So, how does it feel? Pretty good, huh? Are you hungry, you anxious? Well, don't be. We're excited to be here.

First of all, I want to thank the First Gentleman of Michigan, Dan Mulhern, who is my friend. I want us to give him another round of applause, because he and the governor -- (applause) -- they've been doing such a fantastic job promoting mentoring all around the state.

But it is a pleasure for me to be here with you all today to bring together some of the most extraordinary men and women in our country with some of the most promising young people in this city so that you all could really get a chance to talk, and learn from each other, and hopefully inspire one other.

As you see, because everyone was introduced, we've got just some amazing people who have flown here just to be with you. Many have had to come from all over the place to be here, not just me. We've got a Cabinet Secretary, we've got a governor, a mayor. We've got CEOs here, we've got members of Congress, we have one of the great filmmakers of our time. We've got an NBA legend and entrepreneur, and we have the head of the United States Secret Service presidential detail. And just so you know how important this man is to me, he protects my husband. He makes sure that everywhere he goes -- (applause) -- the Secret Service to us are like family, and we love them dearly, and we're just honored to have one of them among us today.

All of these folks have broken barriers in some way or another. They've transformed lives, and they've changed the way that we look at the world. And they're all here today for one simple reason -- and that's to share the lessons that they've learned from their remarkable lives and experiences with all of you young people, all of whom have your own hopes and dreams and ambitions, all your own. We hope that you do. We hope that you're dreaming really big.

They're here because -- we're all here because we believe in you. It is as simple as that. We are believing in you so deeply. We believe that you all have something really special to offer, and because we all see a little bit of ourselves in you. That's why I do this, because when I look at you, I see me. I was the same kid you all were. I won't give you numbers or ages or anything, but it was a little while ago.

The important thing to know is that these folks weren't always the leaders that you see today. They weren't born this way. They didn't always have fame, and accomplishments, or fancy titles to their name. Many of them come from pretty humble backgrounds, and they've never imagined that they'd be where they are today. And again, many of them started out just like you, and it's important to know that.

What we all know in our lives and through our experiences is that there's no magic dust that is sprinkled on us that gives us success. There's no magic to this. There are no shortcuts, there are no quick fixes. None of us was born with the knowledge that we have today, the skills or the talents that we have today. Some, maybe. You've got your special people that were just born crazy talented or crazy smart, but it wasn't me, or the President, for that matter. All these folks here developed those things through hard work.

Governor Granholm wasn't born knowing how to run a state; probably never thought she'd be doing it. Magic Johnson didn't know how to always -- did you always know how to dribble? (Laughter.) Maybe you did. Maybe you were one of the ones. But you didn't always know how to run your own business, right? So, Susan Taylor's magazine didn't just publish itself -- Essence, one of my favorites. These achievements took effort and struggle, late nights and long hours. And all these folks practiced and practiced, and then practiced a little more, to get those promotions, to win those elections, and to hit those notes just right.

When people doubted them, or told them they couldn't do something, they worked a little harder. When they were scared or worried -- and let me tell you, we all have been worried that we just wouldn't measure up -- they all found a way to keep going. When they fell short or failed -- and failure is a part of success, it's a necessary part of success -- they didn't let that defeat them. They let it teach them.

And all along, they found people in their lives to guide them: parents, and grandparents, teachers, coaches, friends who believed in them, who encouraged them and refused to give up on them even when they wanted to give up on themselves.

Cathie Black, who is the CEO of Hearst Magazine, she told us she had a boss who looked after her every step of the way and gave her the good advice that helped her career take off. And then Mayor Bing, your mayor, had a basketball coach, we understand, who was like a second father to him, encouraging him to play even when everyone else said he was too small. You were serious about that, Mayor Bing. Have you seen your mayor? There's nothing too small about him. And there's Spike Lee who had a film professor in college who pushed his students as hard as he could, insisting that they shoot their films in just three days and then edit them in two, and he was the one that encouraged Spike to make his first movie.

Unfortunately, too many young people today don't have that kind of support. They've got big dreams and the talent and the drive to fulfill those dreams, but they've never been given the chance. They never find someone to guide their path. And the more opportunities they miss out on early in their lives, the harder it becomes to catch up later.

And as First Lady, one of the things I am determined to do -- I'm determined to do everything in my power to try to bridge that gap. And I have to tell you, I am incredibly impressed with the work that's going on right here in Michigan through the Mentor Michigan program that your governor and First Gentleman have worked so hard to promote. By promoting and supporting mentoring organizations and creating partnerships with businesses, schools, non-profits and government, this initiative has more than doubled the number of mentors in Michigan in just five years. That's astounding.

That's a trend that I'd like to see all across this country. And that's why I've reached out to young people in our new hometown in D.C. One of the initiatives I've worked on since I've been First Lady that I'm most proud of is that we've created a White House Leadership and Mentoring initiative, matching up White House staffers with young people in Washington, where they get to come to the White House and do special events and following me around on some of my trips in D.C. And I'm working to host mentoring events just like the one we're doing here today, just like the big rally we did at Wayne State. We want to see this going on around the country where folks like all of you can come together, and share a meal and share your stories.

The idea here is just to -- isn't just to create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for just a few of you who get to be here. But it's -- the big goal is to encourage more caring adults to step up, and volunteer their time, and to make mentoring a lifelong habit.

And it's to encourage the mentees, all of you all -- and this is important for me, this is what I'm asking back from you -- is to take the initiative in seeking out mentors in your own lives. It doesn't always happen automatically, because the truth is, you can't hang out with famous folks like these every day, right? This lunch doesn't happen every day. It may not happen again in your lifetime. But you don't need it to. Every day of your lives, you're surrounded by potential mentors. And the best mentors in my life weren't anybody famous. They were folks that I knew: teachers, parents, neighbors, coaches, you name it. They're all around. And you have to be willing to reach out to them, and be brave enough to step up to somebody and say, you know what, can I come and see you in your office, can I call you, can I e-mail you?

I know I had to do that. I had to find, snatch my mentors up, and you all need to do the same thing. So I want you to remember, don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't think that there's someone too important or too out of reach to ask for help, because there are so many of us adults, no matter what our titles are, whether we're living in the White House or living next door, who want to help. And that's something that I didn't really know when I was growing up. I was lucky enough to have parents who cared about me, but I was never strong enough to step up to somebody big and say, can I just sit down and meet with you?

So I want you all to practice that today at your tables. Your challenge is to speak up, all right; to talk about yourselves proudly. The toughest thing for you to do -- and one of the things I tell my mentees at the White House is that if you can walk into the State Room of the White House and look the First Lady in the eye and say, hello, my name is X and this is who I am, then you can do anything, because nothing will be more scary than that, right?

So practice it. And the more you practice it, the more you'll get comfortable with it. And it's that first impression that makes a difference. If you can talk about yourself with confidence, you're going to turn that light off in somebody's head, and they're going to say, whoa, I want to know more about that young person.

And the last thing I want to ask you all to do is to take this experience and use it to bring somebody else along. You know, in every phase of my life, whether I was in high school or Princeton or Harvard or working for the city or working at the hospital, I was always looking for somebody to mentor. I was looking for a way to reach out into my neighborhood and my community and pull somebody else along with me, because I thought, there but for the grace of God go I. I know I could be in a different situation from somebody else. So my job is to bring other people along.

That's your job, too. It's not enough that you're lucky, right? You all are mentors today. You've got a cousin, a niece, a neighbor, a nephew. You've got somebody in your lives that are watching you today. So start practicing being a mentor, because the one thing it'll do is it'll make you act better if you've got somebody looking at you, right?

So that's my ask for you today. I want you all to speak up. I want you to make sure you're talking about yourselves today at your tables, asking questions. Don't be shy. And when you leave here, take this experience with you and find your mentors and find the person that you're going to mentor. Can you all promise me that?

And other than that, just have fun. Breathe. Everyone, breathe, okay. Is there breathing going on? All the mentors, is there breathing at your tables? Okay, let's shake it off, and we're ready to have some fun, have some conversation.

All right, you all, thank you for being here. And I am so proud of you all. Thanks so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the Detroit Mentoring Luncheon in Detroit, Michigan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320679

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