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Michelle Obama 'moved, touched and inspired' by London school girls

Former US first lady receives rapturous reception at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School
 

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Former US first lady receives rapturous reception at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School
 

Michelle Obama has said she was "moved, touched and inspired" by her meetings with London schoolgirls as she returned to the secondary school that she first visited in 2009.

The former US first lady was this afternoon joined by former pupils Winnie Mac and Letrishka Anthony from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School (EGA) and Nusrath Hassan, a former pupil of Mulberry School, on a visit to EGA.

She said: "Meeting the girls here and the girls at Mulberry reminded me how much courage and talent and hope there is."

She added: "On a personal level I was moved and 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 when I get to see you all up close.

"And as I said then, you remind me of me and all the fears and all the challenges that you face. You give me a sense of comfort because being first lady wasn't the easiest job in the world but I got strength from you so thank you all for that, thanks for giving me that."

Ms Obama spoke about the importance of giving children experiences of elite universities early in their time at school.

"Part of what we have to do is expose them to the opportunities. All kids can only dream things that are known to them. If they don't see elite colleges, if they don't know they exist, they don't know what to dream of,” she said.

Referring to the trip she took to Oxford University with 37 EGA pupils in 2011, she said: "This is why our visit to Oxford was so important. Colleges and universities have to start doing the work reaching out to kids very young... we have to start working on that pipeline much earlier.

"We can't wait until we have two years out from college. We need to start talking to them early – that includes not just conversations but visits, what is it like in a dormitory, to sit in a lecture?"

Ms Obama previously visited the school in 2009, at a time when 20 per cent of the school's pupils were refugees and where 55 languages were spoken.

She described the moment in her new memoir Becoming: "Looking at the girls I just began to talk, explaining that though I had come from far away...I was more like them than they knew."

She told the students then that like many of them she had grown up in a poor neighbourhood, but through her determination and hard work had been able to attend Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

Ms Obama’s original visit to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School has even been credited with improving students’ exam grades.

When Professor Simon Burgess, from Bristol University, studied the impact of her association with the schools on the girls’ exam results, he found a slight rise in GCSE scores from 2009 to 2010, while the 2012 score was substantially above 2011.

And he said at the time: "Those results focus on the overall effect, but since Michelle Obama was encouraging very high performance and aspirations it is important to look specifically at high performance too.”

He found a “very striking” rise in the number of top grades relative to the rest of London in 2012. “If this is really a result of Michelle Obama’s interventions, then it is a big effect," he said.

But it wasn't just the pupils that were inspired, the visit was a turning point for Ms Obama, who subsequently focused on educational initiatives, such as her Global Girls Alliance which seeks to empower adolescent girls around the world through education.

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