Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the More Magazine Impact Awards

June 29, 2015

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you all. Please, rest. Well, good afternoon. It is truly a pleasure to be here with all of you for the first ever More Impact Awards. Yes! (Laughter.)

Let me start by thanking Robin for her wonderful introduction, and for all her amazing work. And while I'm certainly not taking any inspiration from Claire Underwood -- (laughter) -- I am very inspired by Robin and Karen, all the amazing work they're doing to empower women and girls. So I'm thrilled to be here, and I hope to work with you more in the years to come.

I also want to thank Lesley Jane Seymour and More Magazine for hosting this event and for letting me serve as guest editor for the July/August issue. And I was just saying backstage that I had a lot of fun doing it, my team had a lot of fun doing it, but, more importantly, I know that it was a success because when I got my edition, my mother grabbed it from me. She took it upstairs, and she said, I read every word of this magazine and I loved it. (Laughter and applause.) So getting an endorsement from Grandma is no easy task, but my mom loved the magazine.

I also want to thank our Peace Corps Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet. Carrie, where are you? Oh, there you -- hi! How are you? (Applause.) She is such a passionate and committed partner of Let Girls Learn. It's been fun getting to know you and working with you and traveling with you. And we're going to do great things in the years to come. Thank you for your work.

And of course, I want to recognize your four outstanding More Impact awardees, who I just got to meet: Lyn Berman, Lillian Collins, Ingrid Cook, and Vivian Onano. Yay! Let's give them all a round of applause. (Applause.) I briefly had the chance to meet them just a few moments ago, and I, again, want to reiterate just how proud I am of all that they're doing. And it's just a real privilege for me to be here to help celebrate everything you all do. And I think my last message was, don't get tired. Just keep it up. We need you out there.

Now, as you all know, the causes that these women are working on are all near and dear to my heart. And today, I want to speak briefly about just one of these causes, and that is the issue of adolescent girls' education. Because if we truly want to have more impact around the world, then we have to address this issue.

You see, when more than 62 million girls worldwide aren't in school, that's not just heartbreaking for those girls, it's not just a loss for them, it's a loss for their families. Girls who are educated marry later. They have fewer kids and lower HIV and infant mortality rates. They're even more likely to immunize their own children.

Educating girls also impacts their entire countries' economies. Studies show that each additional year a girl attends school can increase her earning power by 10 to 20 percent. And when more girls attend school, that can boost a country's entire per capita income. Sending girls to school can even impact our national security, because we know that education is one of the best weapons we have against violent extremism.

So no matter what the issue –- poverty, disease, global warming, terrorism -- ultimately, it all boils down to whether we educate our young people. And if we don't get this right, it's going to be hard for us to get anything right. So this is clearly an urgent policy priority, but for me, like for many of you, this issue is also personal. Because when I look at these girls, whether I'm traveling here at home or around the world, when I see these girls, I see myself.

Growing up -- and I remind these girls all the time -- I wasn't any smarter, I wasn't more talented than they are. But instead of having to work to support my family, or being married off to a grown man and forced to bear children before I was ready, I got to go to school so I could support myself, so I could make my own choices about my body and my life.

And none of us would ever accept anything less for our own daughters and granddaughters. We wouldn't tolerate it. We would never accept a life of dependence and abuse for our girls. We would never allow their bodies to be violated or their potential to be squandered. So we have to ask ourselves, why would we accept this fate for any girl on this planet?

And ultimately, that is why we started Let Girls Learn. As you've heard, it's a government initiative, a brand new initiative to help adolescent girls worldwide go to school, and, more importantly, stay in school. And our focus on adolescent girls is deliberate, because we know that that critical moment when a girl is becoming a woman, so often, that's when we lose her. That's when they first confront the cultural barriers that take them away from school -- things like early and forced marriage, genital mutilation and cutting, and the belief in so many communities that girls simply are just less worthy of an education than boys.

So while we've made significant progress getting girls to complete their primary education, not enough of them are going to high school and beyond. So through Let Girls Learn, Peace Corps volunteers are going to be working to support adolescent girls' education progress -- projects all around the world –- things like mentoring programs and leadership camps, entrepreneurial initiatives, and so much more. I've had the pleasure of meeting with so many Peace Corps volunteers, and they are passionate and they are smart, and they are ready to get this done.

These projects are going to be community-driven -- which is critical -- and community-led. That's why the Peace Corps is key, because they're on the ground every day in communities all over the world. Our volunteers are going to be working side-by-side with local leaders, with families, and, more importantly, with the girls themselves to create programs that best meet the needs and aspirations in those communities.

So the U.S. is stepping up on this issue. And I know that we're going to have a real impact for so many of these girls. But let's also be very clear that there's no way that we, as one country, can solve the girls' education crisis alone. This is very much a global issue. And it calls for a global response.

And that's why, back in March, I traveled to Japan, and I had the privilege of standing with Mrs. Akie Abe, who is the wife of the Prime Minister, and together, we announced a new partnership between our countries to educate adolescent girls in developing countries. Shortly thereafter, I visited Cambodia, one of the first countries where Let Girls Learn will operate. And then couple of weeks ago, I traveled to London with my daughters and my mom, where our countries announced a partnership with the UK and delivered nearly $200 million of investment in girls' education.

Now, this is exactly the kind of work that I plan to do for my remaining time as First Lady and beyond -- this and many more things, but -- (laughter) -- we've got a lot of work ahead. The U.S. will continue to call on developed countries around the world to partner with us and invest in adolescent girls' education. And when they do, I'm going to hop on a plane and join them so that we can highlight this great work that's going on. I'll also be visiting developing countries to showcase the impact that these investments are having on girls and their communities on the ground.

Now, that's my commitment to this work. And I'm here today because I need all of you to join me. Because girls' education can't just be the work of governments. We need individuals, we need organizations from every sector to be part of this effort.

So through Let Girls Learn, we'll be seeking all kinds of partners to help support our girls. In fact, this very event – -where More Magazine and the Meredith Corporation are partnering with the Peace Corps to support Let Girls Learn –- this is a perfect example of the kind of support that I'm talking about. And I want to commend all of the organizers and sponsors today for putting this together. It's just a tremendous effort, and we are incredibly grateful.

And in the months and years ahead, we're going to be reaching out to leaders like you across the country, and we're going to ask one simple question: What can your company, your non-profit, your school, your congregation -- what can you do to support this work?

And we're going to be reaching out to young people here in the United States as well. That's a huge component of Let Girls Learn. It's not just about the young women abroad, but it's about kids right here in the United States. Because I want kids here in the U.S. to know about these girls around the world, and I want them to be inspired by their passion and determination, to reignite that hunger in our kids here. I want them to understand that through efforts like Let Girls Learn, they can make a real difference at a global level on issues like this. I want kids to feel the power of getting involved through this initiative.

We all need to be involved in this work, because in the end, solving this problem is really on all of us. And I say that because the girls that we're trying to help, they're ready right now. They are hungry. They don't need us to do anything to motivate them. They're already motivated.

And I've seen it time and again -- the minute that we step up and we give them opportunity, these girls, they seize it, and they run with it. I've seen it in the UK , where I met these wonderful girls from immigrant families living in cramped apartments with their extended families. They do whatever it takes to succeed. They wake up early to find a quiet time to get their homework done. They stay up late studying as hard as they can. Let me tell you, these girls are ready.

I've seen it in Southeast Asia, where girls are walking for miles every day to get to school, taking all kinds of risks just to make it to class on time. These girls, they're ready. They don't need motivation. I've seen it in Africa, where girls are learning in bare concrete classrooms with little more than a chalkboard and a rickety desk -- and they're thrilled to be there. They are lighting up those classrooms with their passion and their curiosity.

These girls are willing to risk their safety, even their lives, to get an education. So the least we can do is make sure they have a school to attend. The least we can do is help their families afford that school. The least we can do is give them the support they need to graduate. That's the least we can do -- not just for these girls, but for the children they will have one day. This is a long-term investment -- and for their communities and for their families and for their countries.

So really hope that you all take this in and really consider joining us in this work. These girls need your leadership. They need your vision. They need your support. They have so much to offer this world -- I have seen it with my own eyes. And I know that all of you who have worked around the world, you've seen it too. All we have to do is give them a chance.

So I want to thank you all for joining us today. And I want to thank you for everything you've done and everything you'll continue to do to let girls learn. And I look forward to working with all of you in the years ahead.

So thank you all, and God bless. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the More Magazine Impact Awards Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321824

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