MRS. OBAMA: Hello! How is everyone doing?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, it is such a pleasure to be here with all of you today as we welcome Prime Minister Trudeau and Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau, who is, like, my soul mate right now. (Laughter and applause.) We’ve already gotten into trouble. We’re going to be in a lot of trouble before this visit is over.
MRS. GRÉGOIRE-TRUDEAU: — the President going to be like at the end of the day?
MRS. OBAMA: I know, it’s going to be good. Sophie, it’s really a pleasure to have you here. And it’s wonderful to have you all here.
Let me start by thanking my awesome Chief of Staff, who I — you rarely introduce me.
MS. TCHEN: That’s true!
MRS. OBAMA: So I get to talk for a second about just how wonderful Tina is. She does all the work, I just show up and give a speech every now and then. But she is a dear friend, an amazingly smart woman, and I love her dearly. And she has been a phenomenal Chief of Staff. Thank you so much, Tina. (Applause.)
I also want to thank Nancy Lindborg, as well. Where is Nancy? Oh, there you are. Thank you so much for hosting us in this beautiful space. Thank you for your work. We’re just thrilled to be here.
And of course, I want to thank my dear friend, Sophie, for joining us here today for the Institute of Peace — at the Institute of Peace. Sophie is a very passionate advocate for women and girls, and I know that she is as excited as I am to hear from all of you young people about the amazing work that you’re doing to help girls around the world go to school.
We have some phenomenal groups here with us today; we got to spend a short bit of time with each of you. We have young women here from the Girl Scouts — yay, Girl Scouts! (Applause.) We have some phenomenal young people from Girls Inc. who are here. Some Girls Inc. girls. (Applause.) And we’ve got some pretty sharp students here from School Without Walls. (Applause.)
Let me just say this right now — I told you all to make sure you have fun. Enjoy this experience. Because we’re already proud of you, the work that you’re doing. You all are so impressive. And just enjoy this time. We want to hear about everything you have done. There are no right or wrong answers here. You’re telling us about what you’re doing. So make sure you enjoy yourselves, okay? All right.
It’s just amazing that as young people, you all already care deeply about girls’ education. And I know that like me, when you all hear that 62 million girls worldwide are out of school –- I mean, just take a moment and think about that. Sixty-two million girls around the world aren’t in school. And that’s not just a number, because you know that every single one of these girls has a story. They are a person with a life. Just think about yourself in that position — what if you were told one day that, sorry, you’re not going to be able to finish school, you’re just going to live your life without education.
I’ve met some of these girls. I’ve seen it firsthand as I’ve traveled around the world. And these girls are hungry for education. I’ve met girls in Cambodia who wake up before dawn, do the chores at their home, and then get on their bikes and ride miles just to get to school.
I’ve met young girls in Senegal whose classrooms consist of little more than rickety old desks and dirty floors, but they are passionate about learning, and they are raising their hands every time they can. They are just trying to get every bit of knowledge they can regardless of what the space they’re in looks like. I’ve met girls who are willing to risk rejection by their families and their communities just to get an education — girls like Malala Yousafzai — and I know you all have heard about this wonderful hero of a young girl who was willing to risk her life just to speak out about the importance of education.
And these girls face so many obstacles –- whether it’s school fees that their families can’t afford, or long and dangerous journeys to school, or something as simple — of not even having adequate bathrooms for girls. Those are some of the things that keep girls out of school every single day. And worst of all, they face cultural attitudes and beliefs that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education –- that it’s a better investment to keep them at home doing their chores, or maybe marrying them off as early as teenagers — your age — and expecting them to start having kids and being mothers.
And that’s where this issue becomes personal for me, because I see myself in these girls, just as I see myself in all of you. These are our girls. I see my daughters in these girls, and I — as a result, I can’t accept that as their fate. So — especially when I know that they’re — the difference that education can make for these girls. You just think of what education means for you, and — can make the world of difference for these young women.
The research on this is very clear: Girls who are educated, they marry later, and as a result, they have healthier children, they have higher salaries. And studies also have shown that sending girls to school can boost an entire country’s economy. So it makes absolute sense to educate our young women around the world. So we know the power of education — not just for girls, but for their families, for their communities, and absolutely for their entire countries.
And that’s why, as Tina said, one year ago, the President and I launched this wonderful new initiative called Let Girls Learn to help adolescent girls worldwide go to school. Through Let Girls Learn, the U.S. government is providing lots of things around the world — things like scholarships for girls in Africa, leadership training programs for girls in Afghanistan, school bathrooms for girls in countries like El Salvador, and so much more. We also have a wonderful partnership with the American Peace Corps, where volunteers are running girls’ education programs in 22 countries across the globe.
And over the past year, dozens of companies and organizations here in the United States have stepped up to support these efforts. And they’re doing everything from creating new products like backpacks and bracelets and selling those, and advertising those to raise money and awareness. And they’re also highlighting Let Girls Learn in their promotions and advertisements. We’re trying to get the word out. We’re trying to educate the nation on this plight. And as a result, we’ve seen so many individuals stepping up, as well.
So far, 1,600 people in nearly all 50 states have donated money to our Peace Corps projects, including kids. There were a group of kids in a school in California who raised $1,500 for Let Girls Learn simply by selling popsicles and hot chocolate.
MRS. GRÉGOIRE-TRUDEAU: That’s always popular. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: I know. See what you can do? Popsicles and hot chocolate. And this isn’t just an American effort — as well, we have reached out to countries around the world like Japan, the United Kingdom, South Korea. They’ve joined the U.S. in this work, investing hundreds of millions of dollars to send girls to school.
And I am thrilled that we’re working with Canada on critically important issues for girls like ending early and forced marriage, improving adolescent girls’ health — which is key to their education — and helping more girls get the education they deserve. So we are thrilled. Canada is truly one of America’s strongest and closest friends and allies. Our husbands spoke very eloquently today about that friendship. And the President and I are truly honored to have Prime Minister Trudeau and Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau here today.
It is truly a great time for our two countries. And I wanted to share this project and you all with our friends, because I’m proud of the work that you’re doing. And I know that we can get the world united around this issue and change the fate of these 62 million girls forever. We can do this.
So I am excited to hear from you all. But first, it is my pleasure to introduce Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau to all of you. In addition to being beautiful and funny — which I’ve just found out; she’s got a great sense of humor, she was cracking me up back there — (laughter) — she is an accomplished professional. She’s an inspiring role model for young people like you in her country and around the world. And she is a wonderful mother. Like me, she knows that family comes first. She has the cutest little kids, and one little really delicious one. (Laughter.)
MRS. GRÉGOIRE-TRUDEAU: Pudgy. You can say pudgy. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: He’s very delicious. Lots of curly hair. We didn’t want to leave them.
But we are just excited to have them as our partners, and excited to have them here as our guests today. And at this time, I’d like us all to give a warm welcome to Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau. (Applause.)
MRS. GRÉGOIRE-TRUDEAU: Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Sit down, sit down, sit down. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: I do that, too.
MRS. GRÉGOIRE-TRUDEAU: Yes! First Lady, I must say that you speak with such clarity and honesty and integrity. And we feel that. We feel that from deep within, so thank you so much.
I have to say that we arrived yesterday, my family and I, with my husband, and we have been so warmly welcomed. It just has been just a blessing, unbelievable. And it almost feels like home. And now I hear French from the French-immersion program, so it even feels more like home. And I’m standing in this beautiful building — who — was designed by a Canadian architect, Moshe Safdie. So it’s just such an honor to be here and to have all of you beautiful young girls and young boys here with us today. It’s just so ever inspiring.
I’d like to tell you, you know, I hear very often that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. I completely disagree. I think that young people are the leaders of now, today. The actions that you are taking today has an impact whether you feel it or you don’t feel it; whether it’s small or it’s big. The energy that you put out in the world between yourselves and within yourself is so crucial to really foster more peace within ourselves, and therefore more peace and justice in the society that you live in.
Canada truly understands that gender equality and gender empowerment is a priority. Canada truly understands that girls and women who have access to a safe and high-quality education is a priority. And as the First Lady said so well, Canada knows that for a society to be prosperous and more just and more peaceful, women and girls must be educated. And an educated young girl becomes an educated young mother, or mentor, or friend, professional. That makes for an educated society, and an educated society makes for a more peaceful and just place to be and to grow in. (Applause.)
And when I look into children’s eyes, I’m always so, so, so deeply moved. And I have three of my own, and I love them to death, obviously. And you know, when Ella-Grace started to read and she started her education, I was so proud. And we were reading Fancy Nancy, and in Fancy Nancy — you’ve probably heard of — at the end, there are a couple of words where — you know, you have the word and then you have the description of the word. And she looked at me — and she was only, like, five-and-a-half or six — and she said, “Mama, what’s this word here — humble?” So I said, how do I explain that to a six year old? So I said, well, you know, a kid can be good in math and good at school and have many friends and be good in sports, but that kid doesn’t go around saying “I’m so good at this, I’m so good at that.” Maybe that kid thinks for one second, how can my qualities help others? How can I try to teach others what I know with patience so we can all become greater together? And for me, it’s close to the definition — that reminded me of the definition of what is true courage, what is true strength in an individual today.
Because we do live in a competitive, individualistic society, and sometimes it’s difficult to go against the current. But for me, true strength and courage really means the capacity of one person to see himself or herself in her most favorable light.
You be fearless, because you already are fearless. You be courageous. You know your rights. You share your rights. You promote your rights. And you fight for your rights. And you will, not in the future, right now, make this world a better place.
Thank you so much. And I can’t wait to hear about your stories. (Applause.)