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Michelle Obama tells Elizabeth Garrett Anderson students: Friendship with this school is one of my proudest achievements

PUBLISHED: 14:20 03 December 2018 | UPDATED: 15:04 05 December 2018

Michelle Obama, then the US First Lady, during a visit to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Barnsbury in 2009. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Michelle Obama, then the US First Lady, during a visit to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in Barnsbury in 2009. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

PA Archive/PA Images

Michelle Obama this afternoon told Elizabeth Garrett Anderson students that her decade-long relationship with the Barnsbury school was one of her proudest achievements.

Michelle Obama this afternoon told Elizabeth Garrett Anderson students that her decade-long relationship with the Barnsbury school was one of her proudest achievements.

It marks a return visit for the former first lady, who heard girls at EGA perform in 2009 – months after her husband Barack Obama took office. In her autobiography Becoming, which she is in Britain to promote, Mrs Obama spoke of the impact that first visit had on her.

There was no school today but girls took part in a voluntary conference this morning and 300 spellbound students are listening to Mrs Obama’s conversation with executive head Ms Dibb on stage.

Asked what impact her first visit to EGA had on her, Mrs Obama said: “On a personal level I was just moved touched and inspired, as I always am by the young people I meet around the world.

“It gives me a level of focus and determination the work that I do when I get to see you all up close and as I said then you remind me of me.

Michelle Obama visiting Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in 2009. Picture: Lawrence Jackson/The White HouseMichelle Obama visiting Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in 2009. Picture: Lawrence Jackson/The White House

“And all the fears and all the challenges that you face – you guys give me a sense of comfort because being the first lady wasn’t the easiest job in the world but I got strength from your hope in what I could do for you.”

The first African-American first lady discussed the importance of making elite universities feel attainable to young working class girls from Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, citing her own experience of a teacher saying she wasn’t “Princeton material”.

Mrs Obama told the girls: “This relationship that we built together is really one of my biggest sources of pride.

“When I was walking here I saw you have framed all the letters [sent by Mrs Obama to the school] and almost broke down.

“Truly, for me, if there is anyone out there who sees a different possibility for themselves as a young person – changing a life, saving a life in some circumstances – that really is what I’m most proud of.”

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School executive head Jo Dibb spoke of her excitement ahead of today's visit. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyElizabeth Garrett Anderson School executive head Jo Dibb spoke of her excitement ahead of today's visit. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

On the importance of education, she added: “Someone can’t analyse what Brexit means if they can’t think critically about the issues.

“If we want to solve any major issue you can think about, it starts with an education.”

Mrs Obama also spoke about the importance of mentors and the need for “sisterhood” solidarity instead of a “mean girls” mentality.

Speaking ahead of today’s event, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s executive headteacher Jo Dibb said: “It’s really exciting to welcome Mrs Obama back to EGA. You know the huge impact it had in 2009 – what you may not know is how she kept in touch with absolute integrity and authenticity.

“Mrs Obama made EGA students feel really special and they took on board the words she said about working hard, having aspirations and having big dreams.

Winnie Mac, left, at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School this morning ahead of Michelle Obama's visit. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyWinnie Mac, left, at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School this morning ahead of Michelle Obama's visit. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

“So to welcome her back is so special.”

She added: “Mrs Obama is a friend of the school.”

In Becoming, Mrs Obama, 54, wrote: “I wasn’t prepared fully prepared to feel what I did.

“The building was nothing special – a boxy brick building on a nondescript street. But as I settled into a falling chair on stage and started watching the performance [...] something inside me began to quake.

“I almost felt myself fall back into my own past.”

Michelle Obama speaks at an event at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School on Monday. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty ImagesMichelle Obama speaks at an event at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School on Monday. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

She visited Elizabeth Garrett Anderson again in 2011, taking a cohort of 30 students on a tour of Oxford University; and in 2012 she invited 12 girls to visit her at the White House.

Earlier today, EGA alumna Winnie Mac, 22, said: “One of the things she said in her speech was how important it was to reach back and help others.

“And I just find it really inspiring.”

Having heard Mrs Obama speak first time round, Winnie – now an inventor and chemistry graduate working with a materials firm – was compelled to return to EGA today to help out.

Speaking after the event, Winnie, who had been on stage interviewing Mrs Obama, told the Gazette: “I was so nervous beforehand but speaking to her just made us feel so comfortable.”

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