The Importance of Education: Michelle Obama in Montreal

On Feb. 5, Montreal had the pleasure of welcoming former United States first lady Michelle Obama into our home.

 

Obama spoke on the importance of education, and put an emphasis on giving women a more significant role in society.

 

I had the pleasure of being one of many to attend Palais des Congres where the former first lady of the United States spoke. What I really loved about Obama’s speech is that it felt honest and true. She didn’t arrogantly emphasize the power in her title; she spoke to the audience with care, like a friend or family member, which made for a warm and comforting environment.

 

I thought Obama was going to deliver a speech, prepared with her own topics that she wanted to cover, but that wasn't the case. Instead, she was interviewed by Sévrine Labelle who is the President of the Board of Directors of Femmessor Quebec. Femmessor is an organization that seeks to help women entrepreneurs start, consolidate and grow their businesses.

 

 

This was a great opportunity for Labelle, but personally, I felt that I didn’t get the fulfillment I was seeking from the event by sitting and watching an interview between the two, when I could have read an article or watched it at home.

 

Even though I walked away motivated and inspired, I felt there could have been more engagement between Obama and the crowd. The fact that the event was an interview format created a barrier between the crowd and the former first lady. I believe Labelle asked only around five to six questions of Obama in the hour that she was present. I thought we lost the opportunity to get more passion and excitement out of Obama because of the limited time. Had she been talking to the crowd directly and covering things she thought were most important to talk about, she could have focused on things she found most were most important.

 

Nonetheless, the questions were probing, and the answers were insightful.

 

Something I took away from this interview was how much Obama values education and equality. "We have to have open hearts and open minds," she said. "We  have to be willing to step into other people’s shoes."

 

Obama reminded the audience that education doesn’t come easy to all. When Labelle asked what advice she could give children in school to “encourage them to persevere even though sometimes it can be quite difficult," Obama responded by adding that those students have to believe that they deserve it.

 

She spoke about the bar being lower for minorities. They take this fact and allow it to hold them back from moving forward in their life and education.

 

I found the most relatable and comforting thing shared by the former first lady was her reminder of the shared experience of failure. Obama encouraged us to use our disappointment as a learning tool:

 

“Because a lot of kids shy away because they don’t want to fail, or they experience their first failure and they let that define them. Forever. But what I want kids to remember is that, the key to success is failure. It’s not not ever failing, it’s learning to fail and persevere. It’s failing and learning how to overcome those failures.”

 

Focusing on equality, Obama spoke about allowing women to have a higher position in society. She addressed the men in the crowd about aiding this cause:

 

“If you are not making space to the women in your offices, just think what that is doing to the girls you think you love. Those messages that are subliminal that we as women get every single day. And then you look up and wonder why we aren’t confident about starting a business.”

 

 

Ultimately, Obama brought up some thought provoking aspects to everyday life. Why do we fear failure so much? Why does failure have such a negative connotation attached to it? Why do we look at others and allow them to go through life thinking they can’t do something? What differentiates men and women in the office? Why do our differences matter when our goals in the offices we work in are similar?

 

These are all things I asked myself as I left. I too believe my failures are setbacks, to a certain extent, but Obama expressed many of her own failures and look where she stands today. I walked away being grateful for my education, and being hungry for more. I have learned to value my education for these years spent at school as the pinnacle of my life.