On Thursday, First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Mariame Faye Sall of Senegal encouraged young girls to excel in education at the Martin Luther King Middle School in Dakar, after meeting for tea at the presidential palace.
Coming out to a jubilant applause, Mrs. Obama, Madame Sall, and Martin Luther King Principal Rouguy Ly Sall walked on to an elevated stage, where they were greeted by the school’s choir with the American and Senegalese national anthems.
Once the Majorettes dance troupe finished performing to drums in cherry printed dresses, Principal Sall addressed the students in French.
First Lady Sall would introduce Mrs. Obama to the the students in English, stating, “It is a great pleasure to have you [Mrs. Obama] here, and welcome.”
Mrs. Obama then took to the podium, explaining that the reason she chose Martin L. King Middle School was because of their accomplishments, “But most of all, I want to recognize all of you; the very students of this outstanding school. You are the reason why I wanted to be here today, because I am so impressed and so inspired by all of you. I am impressed by your academic achievements, by how hard you’re studying, and by how well you are doing on your exams. I’m inspired by your leadership skills, by how your running your student government, meeting with so many prominent leaders and preparing yourselves to becoming the next generation of leaders in your community.”
Using her background as a way to connect with her audience, Mrs. Obama acknowledged that both the students and their families are likely making significant sacrifices in order to stay in school, “But of course, I know that what you all are doing here isn’t always easy. I know that some of you may be the first in your families to attend a school like Martin Luther King, so there might be people at home who don’t quite understand what you’re going through as you work to succeed here. And I know that for some of you, just sitting in these classrooms each day requires great sacrifices by your families.”
Still, as the students read the First Lady’s translated remarks on their laps, Mrs. Obama made sure to explain that their decision to invest in education will have lasting effects beyond themselves:
“So I know that it can take real courage to pursue your dreams, to come to this school, to pour yourself into your education, to envision possibilities for yourselves that no one could ever imagine. But don’t ever forget that by investing in your education, you are doing the very best thing you can do — not just for yourselves, but for your children and your grandchildren. And you’re also doing the very best thing you can do for your country.
“That is true here in Senegal, and in the United States, and across the globe. When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous. That’s why, here in your country and in my country as well, our leaders are working so hard to expand educational opportunities to more and more young people, especially our young girls.”
Mrs. Obama ended her speech prodding the future leaders to draw on the strength of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is currently on life support, “If President Mandela could endure being confined to a tiny cell, being forced to perform back-breaking labor, being separated from the people he loved most in the world, then surely, all of us, we can keep showing up and doing our best — showing up for school each day, studying as hard as you possibly can. Surely, you can seize the kind of opportunities Mandela fought for for all of us; surely, you can honor his legacy by leaving a proud legacy of your own.”