EXCLUSIVE: Michelle Obama Talks to Us About Education, Equality & Girl Power

Just two years ago, the UN declared October 11 to be the International Day of the Girl to raise awareness about gender inequality around the world. Today is a perfect opportunity to celebrate all of the women in our lives—and if there’s one woman who inspires us on the daily, it’s Michelle Obama.

The First Lady is a lawyer, fashion icon, advocate for healthy living and military families, wife, mom and role model for women and girls everywhere. If we had to describe Mrs. Obama in one word, it would be "determined." She worked her way up from a modest upbringing to get where she is today, and she is dedicated to extending the same opportunity to every other girl in the world.

We are thrilled to have been given the opportunity to talk to The First Lady about her incredible girls’ education initiative, as well as what she would tell her college self if she could. 

Her Campus: Tell us a little bit about your girls’ education initiative, Let Girls Learn. 

Michelle Obama: Right now more than 62 million girls worldwide are not in school. Sometimes, the issue is resources: they can’t afford the school fees; or the nearest school is miles away and they have no way to get there; or they can’t afford feminine hygiene products, so they have to stay home every time they get their periods, and they fall behind and wind up dropping out.  But sometimes, the barriers are attitudes and beliefs—cultural beliefs that girls should get married young, or that their time is best spent at home helping with household labor.

Let Girls Learn is a government initiative dedicated to helping adolescent girls around the world overcome these barriers so they can go to school.  As part of Let Girls Learn Letgirlslearn.peacecorps.gov, Peace Corps volunteers will be working to create girls’ education projects in the communities they serve—starting girls’ leadership camps and mentorship programs, building school libraries and bathrooms, and more.  

HC: How can young women in the US pitch in to help adolescent girls around the world?

MO: You can start by raising your voice and raising awareness about this issue.  In honor of International Day of the Girl, I hope you’ll join me, Beyonce, Mindy Kaling, Kerry Washington and so many others by tweeting or Instagraming a photo of yourself using the hashtag #62MillionGirls and telling the world what you learned in school: “In school, I learned ____. #62MillionGirls don’t have that chance.”

Next, visit 62milliongirls.com to see our yearbook, download the Peace Corps toolkit, and learn all the ways that you and your friends can get involved in Let Girls Learn.  For example, you can check out the girls’ education projects that Peace Corps volunteers are proposing, and you can choose which ones you want to support. 

And I hope that as Her Campus correspondents, you make sure that young woman know what's happening not just on their own campus, but around the world. 

HC: What led to you becoming an advocate for adolescent girls’ education?

MO: Growing up, my family didn’t have much money, and neither of my parents had a college degree, but they were determined to see me get the best education possible – and that education was everything for me.  It was the starting point for every opportunity I’ve had in my life. But so many girls never get that chance. And as I’ve traveled the world, I have seen that these girls are so bright and so hungry to learn—and I really see myself in these girls, I see my daughters in these girls. 

I want to do everything I can to help these girls—and I want young women like you to know about them and be inspired by them to not take your education for granted. If you ever face challenges at school and start to get frustrated, I want you to remind yourself that there are 62 million girls around the world who would give anything to be in your position.

HC: Looking back, is there anything you wish you could've told your college self?

MO: Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.  If you’re struggling in class, go to your professor’s office hours.  If you’re having trouble writing a paper, get yourself to the writing center.  If you’re struggling with issues in your personal life, seek out an advisor or counselor and talk to them about it.  Getting help when you need it doesn’t make you weak—it makes you smart.

HC: And finally, what is the #1 song on your playlist right now?

MO: I’m hooked on the soundtrack from Hamilton and I just heard Nico and Vinz perform at Glamour’s “The Power of an Educated Girl” event at the Apollo Theater—so I’m a fan, but it’s so hard to choose just one! Check out my Spotify playlist for songs I turn to when I need some inspiration.