Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the Room to Read "Let Girls Learn" Event in Siem Reap, Cambodia

March 21, 2015

MRS. OBAMA: Well, thank you, Mrs. Bun Rany. First of all, let me just thank you so much for your kindness, your hospitality, for allowing me to spend time with these amazing young women.

These young women here are the reason why the President and I and so many around the world are pushing to get more girls educated. I am so proud of you all. I am so impressed by the level of intelligence and poise that you've presented today. And you all are living proof that we can't afford to let this kind of talent go unsupported.

Before coming here, I read each of your stories, a little bit about each of your stories. And I want to thank you both for bravely sharing your stories in front of the world.

But I know that what you're doing isn't easy. I know that sometimes you struggle in school. I know that it can't be easy to work on your farm, to take care of your family, to drive an hour to school or ride your bike an hour to school and then study and get good grades. I know that's not easy. But it's so important for you all to know that the fact that you're here proves how smart and how strong and how capable you all are.

And there are going to be people who aren't going to be happy that you're so smart and strong and capable. It happened to me when I was your age. There were people who told me that I wasn't smart enough to go to college and go to law school -- but I ignored them. And I want you to ignore them, too.

And it's important for young women in my country to know that you exist; to know how hard you're working, how much you're willing to sacrifice just to get an education to improve not just your future but the futures of your family and your community.

So you all are role models to the world. There are going to be young girls that watch this and they're going to think, I can do the same thing. They're going to say to themselves, "I have a voice, I have a brain, and I'm going to use it."

So here's one thing I ask of each of you: When you complete your education -- and I know that you will, no matter how long it takes or how hard it is -- that you find another young girl in your community or in your family, and you help them. You mentor them. You hold their hand when it gets hard. And you tell them, if I can do it, you can do it. Do we have a deal? (Laughter.)

Well, keep up the great work. Your country is proud of you. And the United States's First Lady is proud of you, too. Thank you so much for sharing today.

* * * * *

Q: If you could answer my question, how can the young Cambodian -- do in order to inspire the girls to study and achieve what they do in school?

MRS. OBAMA: Well, as I just said, the deal that we have now is that you serve as a mentor. The girls in your life -- your little sisters, your neighbors, the people in your community, the little girls -- they're watching you. And they're going to follow your lead. And that's one of the most important things that you all can do right now at your age to help others.

But the other thing that you can do is finish what you started. Finish your education, and then follow your dreams to become doctors and teachers and mathematicians, and then bring all of that knowledge back to your communities and your families, just like you were saying. You're going to help people in your community live healthier lives after you get your education. That's the best thing you can do.

And the last thing that I think you all can do is use your voices to advocate for good things -- whether it's more education, better health care, more freedoms, more equality -- just like you were saying. You now will have a voice. And you will have the training and the education to use it for good not just here in Cambodia, not just here in Siem Reap, but for the world. And I hope that you all will feel empowered to do that.

Q: My question is for both ladies. I'd like to ask, what is your impression about seeing us today, about being here today?

MRS. OBAMA: Well, I leave our gathering today feeling inspired and hopeful. I don't know if you know, I have two daughters who are around your age, and it's just so good to know that there are other young women halfway around the world who are just as smart and just as capable and just as courageous.

The reason why leaders around the country are going to band together to support girls' education is because we need you to be the leaders of tomorrow. We need your passion. We need your intellect. We need your organizational skills. We need your nurturing, because many of you are still going to be mothers and wives -- I am. You can do both. And we need it all.

Our job -- and it's all of our shared jobs -- is to help others come to the same conclusion about women and girls. For those people out there who think that it's better for their daughters not to go to school, it's going to be up to you all to help make the argument that investing in you is the best thing that your families can do for you and for their communities.

You all, we are going to have to keep having that conversation. Because it's going to take some time for people to change their beliefs, right? Old people, we don't change that quickly. It takes some time. But I know you all will do it. I am confident.

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the Room to Read "Let Girls Learn" Event in Siem Reap, Cambodia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321817

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