Transcript: Women’s Leadership Luncheon in Botswana

The first lady stressed the role leadership plays in creating leaders.

Posted: 06/24/2011 09:54 AM EDT
Michelle Obama

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, hello everyone.  It is such a pleasure to be with all of you today.  It’s a beautiful sunny day.  A little chilly.  It’s okay, I’m from Chicago, I can handle it.  (Laughter.)  It’s cold in my hometown.  

 

But it is a pleasure to be in this beautiful country that embodies what my husband has called “a vision of Africa on the move.”  That is Botswana, a thriving democracy, a vital society, a fast-growing economy, and more importantly a kind and generous people who have, in this short amount of time, given me and my family such a warm welcome.  (Applause.)

 

I want to start by thanking Mpho for that wonderful introduction.  Very kind, very brilliant.  Let’s give her a hand.  (Applause.)

 

And I also have to thank Ambassador Gavin for her remarks and for taking the time, for her leadership.  She is going to be a magnificent ambassador.  We are excited about her being here.  She is among our best.  So let’s give her a round of applause.  (Applause.)

 

But I also want to more importantly recognize our guests of honor.  We have 23 young women who we are celebrating today.  Some of these young women are the very first in their families to attend university.  Others have overcome tremendous odds to do so.  And all of them are working hard every day at their universities and at their secondary schools.  And we’re here today because we are so proud of you all and we are very impressed by everything that you’ve achieved to this point.  So let’s give them a round of applause, too.  (Applause.)

 

Finally, I want to thank the 10 remarkable women leaders who have come here today, who have taken time from their busy lives to join us and to help us celebrate these young women.  Each of these leaders has carved out an extraordinary path in this world.  And along the way, they have broken all kinds of barriers and reached heights in their careers. 

 

But I want the students here to remember about these leaders is that it wasn’t so long ago that these women were sitting just where all of you are sitting.  They, believe it or not, including me, we were once young, too.  (Laughter.)  They were filled with hopes and dreams, but also worries, fears and doubts. 

 

It’s important to remember that these women were not born attorney general, the Dean of a Medical School, the paramount chief of a tribe.  It wasn’t just luck that made them the first woman on this country’s highest court or the first woman to serve as FIFA football referee.

 

Each of these women earned these honors.  They spent thousands of hours studying, and practicing, and working.  And in the end, their stories were possible because along the way, each of them had someone in their lives who encouraged them and inspired them.  They each had someone who told them, “You’re special, you’re talented, you have so much to offer.” 

 

And today, I’m reminded that here in Botswana, you have a proverb that says: “We are people because of other people.” 

 

In other words, all of our journeys are shaped, in part, by people in our lives who love us, who believe in us, and who invest in us. 

 

And that is why we didn’t just invite these remarkable young leaders here today.  We also invited their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunts, and uncles, caregivers, mentors and others who have made them who they are today. 

 

And we did this purposefully because we know that education is a family affair.  It’s a community affair, particularly when it comes to educating young women. 

 

It’s about fathers who ask, “Why should my son go to school, and not my daughter?”  It’s about the grandmother who makes sure her granddaughter is dressed, fed, hair-braided, and out the door in time for school.  It’s about the mother who works long hours, maybe an extra job, so that her daughter can attend university and have opportunities that she never dreamed of.

 

So to all of the family members and the loved ones who are here today, please make no mistake about it, that these young women are here today because of you, and who they will become in the future is because of you.  So today is your day too.

 

And I know this from firsthand experience the power of the love and support that family provides, because I have been blessed with so much of that in my life.

 

I came from a modest background.  Neither of my parents attended university themselves.  But they were determined that my brother and I would have that chance.  So they worked hard to provide for us.  They sacrificed for us.  More importantly, they set high standards.  They pushed us to meet those high standards. 

 

And when it came time for me to apply to university, I applied to some of the most elite universities in my country.  And as I’ve shared so often, before, when I applied, there were people that didn’t think that someone with my background could succeed at such elite institutions.  And when I ended up getting accepted to one of those universities, truthfully I had plenty of doubts about my own abilities.

 

But once I started attending classes, I soon realized that I could do just as well, if not better, than many of my classmates.  I realized that success is not about where you come from or how much money your family has.  Success is about how passionately you believe in your own potential and more importantly how hard you’re willing to work to achieve it.

 

And what I have said to so many young people and young women is that if ever you start to doubt yourself -- because I did this -- I would remember all of that faith, all that love, all that hard work that my parents poured into me. 

 

And by doing that, for me, that would light my path. That would guide me on my journey.

 

So today, I want to conclude with a simple toast.  To these extraordinary women -- we can pretend to raise our glasses -- (laughter) -- we are all so proud of.  To these remarkable women leaders, whose achievements inspire us.  And to all of those in our lives whose love guides us, sustains us, and makes us who we are.

 

So thank you all.  God bless.  Keep it up.  Work very hard.  This is the beginning of a very high bar for all of you.  But you can do it.  You already are doing it. 

 

And the last message to the family members, something my mother taught me, is that you don't have to have achieved what your children have achieved to push them to be successful.  All they need is your constant love and support.  That is it. 

 

So keep being what they say -- that “wind beneath their wings” -- and they will be brilliant.  So thank you all so much.  (Applause.) 

 

 

(Photo: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

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