Michelle Obama at Penguin Talks

All pictures credit: Will Fahy

On 3 December Michelle Obama paid a special visit to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Islington, London, to talk to pupils about empowerment through education and the important role of self-belief in achieving your goals.

The Penguin Talk saw over 250 girls from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Mulberry School hear directly from the former First Lady of the United States in her only visit to a UK school to mark the publication of her memoir, Becoming. Mrs. Obama has a longstanding relationship with the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Mulberry School communities, having visited and engaged with both on several occasions during her time as First Lady of the United States, and was joined on stage by former pupils Winnie Mac, Letrishka Anthony and Nusrath Hassan.

Michelle Obama alongside ex-pupils of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School at Penguin Talks
Michelle Obama at Penguin Talks

'There are enough barriers ready to tear us down, our job as women is to do our best to lift each other up.'

From the moment Mrs. Obama appeared on stage, the atmosphere in the room was electric, as she received a rousing standing ovation. Having previously visited both schools during past trips to the UK, she reflected on how the relationship she'd built with them had been one of her 'biggest source[s] of pride' throughout her time as First Lady, and spoke of her joy at being reminded of her previous visit through framed photographs in the school hallways.

Drawing on her position as a powerful advocate for girls around the world, she spoke of the inspiration and strength she takes from other women. 'Female role models were critical and I was surrounded by wonderful, strong women in different ways. Strength shows up in so many different ways - it doesn’t have a title ... The strong women in my life were my mother, my aunts and my grandmothers – people who got up and worked every day and sacrificed and didn’t complain.’

‘I’ve seen women who get up and work and do the unpleasant, unfulfilling hard work of just making a living ... that’s the kind of role model, those are the voices in my head every day, when I think about what kind of woman that I want to be.’

Mrs. Obama also encouraged pupils to look out for each other. 'There are enough barriers ready to tear us down, our job as women is to do our best to lift each other up. Find somebody who’s struggling, and help them. And the best way to do that now is to practice it. ' She then added: 'there’s no rooms for mean girls or cliques. If you see another girl alone or isolated, you never know what they’re going through. Keep that part of your heart open to each other. That’s one thing we can do better as women - we can take better care of each other.'

One of the most poignant moments of the talk came as Mrs Obama reflected on questions she'd received recently about whether her mantra 'When they go low, we go high' was still relevant. 'What choice do we have?', she said, 'It’s our responsibility to have hope, to act with hope and to lead with hope, if we want our kids to live better lives.'

Michelle Obama at Penguin Talks

Penguin Talks is a programme of free creative talks hosted by Penguin for young people across the UK, which give the audience the opportunity to both hear from and directly question a world-renowned thinker, writer or influential figure from our family of authors.

Our aim is to help equip young people for the future by introducing a new generation of readers to new ideas and perspectives, and broadening their understanding of issues which speakers feel to be particularly prevalent for this generation.

The event was filmed, with the video to be made available for all to watch on the Penguin Books YouTube channel later this week. A free teaching resource, based on the central themes and ideas of Becoming, will also be available to download from the Penguin Talks page shortly.

In the meantime, here are six of our picks of Mrs Obama's most inspiring quotes from the discussion...

On looking after yourself:

‘Take care of you, because you are the best asset you can invest in at this time. So that means taking care of your space, your health, your education. Protecting your heart is an important investment for the bigger picture.'

On mentorship and giving back:

'I mentor because I was mentored ... I feel like when someone invests in me, as many people have, what I write about in my book is that I didn’t get here on my own. There were people in my life who saw potential in me, who held a hand out and showed me the way. I am a product of the generosity of other people’s mentorship. So the expectation of myself is that I give that back.'

On the power of education:

'I absolutely believe that education is the key, not just for young women, but for people in general. Knowledge, the opportunities to mature, to try new things, meet new people, to be open to different cultures.'

On the importance in changing the future through voting:

'The one challenge that we have, at least in our country, is harnessing the power we have and the responsibility we have with that, and by that, I mean voting.'

On what's next:

'Barack and I want to be a part of training that next generation of leaders. We want to be a part of working with leaders not just in the US but around the world. We think that multiplier effect is more powerful than anything he or I could do as individuals.'

And on the keys to maintaining a successful partnership:

'In order to be a true partner in any relationship, I’ve learned that you have to be whole first ... Love doesn’t fix the problems you have inside, you are a better partner when you work on yourself'

Michelle Obama at Penguin Talks
  • Becoming

  • An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir; 15 million copies sold worldwide





    Now in paperback featuring a new introduction by Michelle Obama, a letter from the author to her younger self, and a book club guide with 20 discussion questions and a 5-question Q&A, the intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States

    In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her -- from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world's most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it -- in her own words and on her own terms.

    Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations -- and whose story inspires us to do the same.

  • Read more

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