Throughout her tenure as first lady, Michelle Obama has frequently recalled in speeches her humble beginnings and the economic challenges her family endured. She does it not so much to brag about how far she's come — from a tiny apartment to Princeton University and Harvard Law School to the White House — but more to help others realize how far they can go.
"I was you guys," the first lady told students participating in Urban Alliance Chicago, a career and education program for underserved high school seniors spearheaded by Amy Rule, wife of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. During the Thursday visit, she dispensed advice, boosted their confidence and urged them to replicate the success they've had in the program as they start building their futures.
Briana Miller, who is interning this summer at the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller before heading off to Connecticut to attend Trinity College in the fall, asked Obama "what words of wisdom" she has for someone "who is dedicated to success, but sometimes not quite sure of herself" and about to embark on an academic and social adventure in a new and very different environment.
The first lady encouraged her to build a supportive network of friends and academic advisers, but also remember the one she has back at home.
"Don’t be afraid to ask for help and use your voice," Obama said. "And what you will find is that you have so much more to contribute than you think. Your perspective on life is different from your classmates'. Your observations, your judgment will be different and many times better. So you don’t want to suffocate that voice. You want to go in owning your experiences and your background."
The first lady acknowledged that she talks about her background because she's proud of it.
"Growing up on the South Side; not having a lot of resources; struggling through some of the best schools; being one of a few Black women in the room at a board room, at a table — that has prepared me for this," she said. "So I embrace my background. And I want all of you to do that no matter where you go."
To Briana, Obama added, "You can do this, girl. You got through the hard part."
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(Photo: Courtesy ABC 7 Chicago News)