Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the United Nations General Assembly Spousal Program in New York City

September 19, 2016

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much! (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. Look at you all. Hello, everyone. Are you enjoying the show so far? (Applause.) Good, me too. Well, I'm thrilled, so thrilled to be here today with all of you.

Let me start by thanking the one and only Stephen Colbert for that wonderful introduction and for hosting this event today. (Applause.) As you saw firsthand, Stephen always makes us laugh, but he also makes us think and care about important issues like girls' education. And I'm so grateful for everything he has done.

Thanks also to Mrs. Ban, who's been such a great friend and supporter of our work to help girls worldwide. And thanks to the First Lady of Malawi, Dr. Gertrude Mutharika, and Queen Rania of Jordan for their outstanding leadership on behalf of women and girls.

I also want to recognize the brilliant young women who are sharing their stories today, as well as the extraordinary performers from the cast of Beautiful, Waitress, Wicked, and of course, The Color Purple.

Finally, thanks so much to all of you for joining us here today as we celebrate the power of girls' education across the globe.

Now, for me, this issue has always been personal. See, back when I was a girl growing up in a working-class neighborhood, most of the folks I knew -– including my parents -– didn't go to college. But with a lot of hard work –- and a lot of financial aid -– I had the chance to attend some of the finest universities in the country. And I can tell you that education was everything for me. It opened doors. It gave me the confidence to pursue my ambitions and make my voice heard in the world. For me, education was power.

So a few years ago, when I had the honor of meeting Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head just for trying to go to school -- well, that's when this issue got really personal for me. Because the terrorists who nearly killed her were trying to silence her voice. They were trying to snuff out her ambitions and take away her power. And that's why I decided to work on global girls' education. Because there are girls just like Malala in every corner of the globe -- girls who are so bright, so hardworking and hungry, some who are even willing to risk their lives just to get an education.

And that's really the mission of our Let Girls Learn initiative -– to give girls worldwide the education they need to fulfill their potential and lift up their families, their communities and their countries.

Now, I want to be clear, as may be true for many of our first ladies who are here, as First Lady of the United States, I have no budget of my own for programs. I have no authority to make or pass laws. I cannot issue any kind of executive orders. But in just a year and a half, through Let Girls Learn, we've established partnerships with nearly 80 companies and organizations that are committing money, resources and expertise.

We're collaborating with countries like Canada, Mexico and the Nordic countries on girls' education efforts. Countries like Japan, South Korea, and the UK have invested nearly $600 million. The U.S. is investing over half a billion dollars more, and running Let Girls Learn programs in 40 countries. (Applause.) And the World Bank Group will be investing $2.5 billion over the next five years. (Applause.) Yeah, good stuff. (Applause.) In addition, through social media campaigns, Let Girls Learn has inspired young people like the girls here today to step up and be champions for girls worldwide.

All of this is happening because, time and again, whether it's a head of state, a corporate CEO, or a 15 year-old girl here in the U.S., when people hear the stories of girls who aren't in school, they want to help. And as spouses of world leaders, so many of us here in this room have a platform that we can use to tell these stories and bring people together to take action for these girls. Because people will pick up the phone when we call. They will come to a meeting when we ask. Cameras may even show up when we go to an event.

So really, we all have so much more power than we think. And today, I'm urging you to use that power to help girls worldwide get the education they deserve. Reach out to your country's NGOs and corporations. Lobby your spouses. Talk directly to your citizens, especially your young people. More than 62 million girls around the world are counting on us to be their voice. And I intend to keep speaking out on their behalf not just for the rest of my time as First Lady, but for the rest of my life. And I hope that you all will join me.

Thank you all so much. Enjoy the show. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the United Nations General Assembly Spousal Program in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320875

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