I went back to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in Islington last week – the London girls school Michelle Obama visited during her first ever foreign trip abroad as First Lady in 2009. According to a new book by New York journalist Jodie Kantor, her trip to the school three years ago transformed Michelle’s vision of her new role. Until then, according to Kantor, she’d been isolated and unhappy in the White House, which she’d moved into three months previously. At EGA, surrounded by teenagers, many from working-class and ethnic minority backgrounds like herself, all rapturously applauding, the First Lady realised how she could use her position to reach out to such youngsters and transform their lives. Later that year she launched an anti obesity childhood drive across America.
And if Kantor is right, and these young girls from tough backgrounds changed the First Lady’s life, she changed theirs too. Last week I caught up with a group of half a dozen teenagers who had all met Michelle, not only on that first visit in 2009, but again last year when she returned to the UK and took three dozen EGA pupils on a motivational visit to Oxford university.
“I never cut class. I loved getting As. I liked being smart. I liked being on time. I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world. And you too, with those same valued, can control your destiny,” she told the spellbound girls.
Inspired by their famous mentor, several of the girls have taken GCSEs early, notching up A and A * grades. And they have raised their ambitions – aspiring to be lawyers (like Michelle herself), doctors and scientists. “Like Michelle said, ‘We are the women who will build the world as it should be,” said Silan Fidan, 15, who wants to study medicine at Oxford. She’s already been offered a sixth form place place at the fee paying Highgate school, on a bursary.
Fingers crossed for their futures…
Check out the Sunday Times piece on Michelle Obama