On Tuesday 16th June, Mulberry School For Girls was extremely privileged to welcome a very exciting visitor: Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America. Mrs Obama joined us at our school to launch her girls’ education campaign, ‘Let Girls Learn’, through which she is calling to international governments to prioritise girls’ education and help every girl in the world to complete her education.
The first lady entered the school to rapturous applause and cheering from students and staff alike. After greeting a committee of guests, representative staff and pupils in the reception area, she made her way through the courtyards of the school, accompanied by her hosts for the day – Nusrath Hassan (12SH) and Deputy Head Prefect Myesha Haque (10L).
Students filled the courtyards, waving British and US flags and cheering as the First Lady walked amongst them. In the Mulberry Courtyard, Mrs Obama paused to watch a specially commissioned arts performance. The Year 9 Choir, conducted by Jemima Islam (9Y), sang a beautiful arrangement of ‘Something Inside So Strong’ by Labi Siffre. Mulberry alumna Maria Jahan performed a dance piece, accompanied by Naphysa Awuah (10B) reading Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’.
The First Lady made her way to the Parkwood foyer, where she was greeted by a delegation of Year 10 and Year 13 prefects. Greeting them with open arms, she said ‘It’s so good to see you!’ and told them that she was ‘so proud’ of the work they had done to make the visit possible.
After posing for a photo with the Prefects, Mrs Obama led a round table discussion on girls’ education in the Mulberry library. She was joined by the Secretary of State for Education, Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan; Secretary of State for International Development, Rt. Hon. Justine Greening; Bina Contreras, a volunteer from the Peace Corps; Dr Pauline Rose from Cambridge University; and Fiona Mavhinga, founding member of Camfed.
Mrs Obama then met an audience of over 200 Mulberry students who awaited her in the Main Hall, filled with anticipation and excitement. In addition to our students, we were joined by students from some of the fantastic schools with whom we have established valued partnerships over the years: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school, the Ursuline High School and Wadham School in Somerset. We also welcomed VIP guests including Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and current Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education; and Matthew Barzun, American Ambassador to the UK. The rest of Mulberry’s pupils gathered in the Sports Hall to watch a live stream of Mrs Obama’s address.
Following an introduction by Dr Ogden and opening remarks by Justine Greening, Mrs Obama delivered a heartfelt and moving speech about the urgent need to prioritise girls’ education. She spoke with conviction about the impact a good education has not only on a girl’s life, but on the lives of her family and her community. Her passion was clear as she spoke about how valuable education is. She touched on her own background, growing up in a working-class neighbourhood in Chicago, dreaming of attending a top University and wondering how she was going to get there when she knew nobody else who had ever been to university. Students listened, rapt, as she encouraged them to be ambitious, to stay dedicated to their studies, to know the value of their education, and to lend their considerable energy and talent to helping other girls across the world to access education.
Mrs Obama’s speech was followed by a Q&A with Dr Ogden and Julia Gillard. Students asked questions about how they could follow in Mrs Obama’s footsteps and become lawyers, and what practical steps they could take to support girls who have not yet been given the educational opportunities Mulberry girls and their peers have enjoyed. As she took leave of her audience, Mrs Obama shook the hands of many students, and hugged many others. Her warmth and sincerity shone through and the audience, already moved by her speech, was left buzzing with excitement and energy.
After leaving the stage, Mrs Obama paid a surprise visit to the students gathered in the Sports Hall, telling them she couldn’t possibly leave them out.
Long after her departure, Mulberry students were filled with energy and excitement. More than ever before, our students have been galvanised to pursue their own dreams and ambitions with passion and drive; and to share their energy and experience with their sisters around the world.
We would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to Michelle Obama and her team at the White House for a day our staff and students will never forget.
We are very excited to report that Mulberry has been given an official invitation to visit Mrs Obama and President Obama at the White House next year. Fundraising for this trip will commence in September.