O, Michelle

2013-06-30 10:00

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While her husband speaks at UJ, US First Lady shows dynamism in a meet-and-greet with SA youth to inspire them to study hard and pursue dreams.

First Ladies over the years have been portrayed as icons of style, but Michelle Obama is far more than that, functioning in American diplomacy almost like a Cabinet minister without portfolio.

While her husband Barack Obama was in Soweto meeting young African leaders, his wife met South African youth at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in downtown Johannesburg as part of the MTV Base Meets series that included a Google+ Hangout (online video conference) with people in several US cities.

Combining the traditional First Lady role of wife and mother, Michelle has added style queen and social advocacy, particularly pushing for kids to exercise more and eat better food, to her roles.

Yesterday’s event was inspired by Michelle Obama’s big-picture pursuit to inspire kids through education.

Addressing a crowd of mostly youngsters, she reminded them of the sacrifices of Soweto students in 1976 and the so-called Little Rock Nine, some of the first black students to go to a non-segregated school in the US.

“These young people decided to face down bullets and beatings and abuses. They wanted the same things you young people want today: to get a good education, to get jobs, to provide for your families,” she said.

“It’s so easy to take those advances for granted,” she added, before describing her own humble beginnings and how she studied hard to become a lawyer after being told she was unlikely to succeed because of her background.

“I decided to prove them wrong. I poured myself into my education. I got into the best college. Those degrees were my ticket to all sorts of exciting opportunities. It allowed me to give back to my community and country.”

The First Lady was immaculate in a printed green, yellow and white skirt and black V-neck chiffon top.

This was accessorised with large gold hoop earrings and yellow closed-toe pumps with narrow stiletto heels.

Replying to questions about being a mother and a woman, she said: “You don’t leave your womanhood at the door. You bring those qualities with you.”

Stressing how students can take control of their education, she said: “You might not control what family you come from, what school you go to or how other people treat you. But you can control if you do your homework.”

Citing former president Nelson Mandela’s sacrifice, she said: “If president Mandela can endure being confined to a tiny cell, forced to endure backbreaking labour, being away from his family and the people he loved, then surely you and I can show up for school every day. If Mandela can hold tight to that vision for South Africa, surely you can do everything to achieve your own goals,” she said.

“Nelson Mandela laid the foundation for all of us. When he was finally released, that was one of the most powerful moments of human civilisation. I’m so happy he has lived this long to see the consequences of his sacrifices.”

She added: “You all have everything you need to achieve the same in your lives. You have a brain in your head, passion in your hearts.”

Quoting Mandela, she stressed: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

And quoting her mother, who was in the audience, she said: “It isn’t what people call you that matters, its what you answer to.

“You can answer to peer group pressure. Or you can answer to your own hopes and dreams.”

She joked with John Legend, who was participating from Los Angeles in the US: “Teachers should be far more exciting than rappers.

“I would love it if young people were idolising educators (instead of) ball players, singers, dancers.”

»?Shapshak is the editor of Stuff magazine. Visit www.stuff.co.za

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