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Michelle Obama reaches out to DC high school students

By / March 19, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks to students during her visit to Anacostia High School in Washington March 19, 2009. Twenty-one women at the top of their fields joined the first lady in visiting local schools and speaking with students about their career goals.

KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

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Thirteen students from Southeast Washington’s Anacostia High School – one of the city’s most challenged public schools – have had a day they’ll never forget.

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They were told a “celebrity” would be visiting today, but not who. When those guys with the wires coming out of their ears began prowling the halls, they might have had a clue. But it wasn’t until Michelle Obama entered the room that the students – 10 girls, 3 boys, all juniors or seniors, all African-American – saw their surprise visitor. The students gasped when she walked in.

Like a basketball coach, Mrs. O patted some knees as she worked her way around the semi-circle, then when she reached the end of the line, the hugs started.

Her message of the day: set goals, achieve your dreams.

Actually, her very first message to the students was, “Ignore those people!” She was referring to the White House press pool, yours truly included.

“So do I need to introduce myself?” she asked. A few piped up. Of course they knew who she was. But she told them she’s Michelle Obama and First Lady of the United States anyway. “I think that’s cool!” one girl said.

Mrs. Obama’s visit was part of a Women’s History Month event, in which the White House invited 21 female luminaries from all over the country – including Alicia Keys, Mae Jemison, Sheryl Crow, and Dominique Dawes – and sent them out to visit with students, mostly girls, at schools in DC and the suburbs.

Obama herself was the only VIP at Anacostia High on Thursday, but that was enough for the star-struck high-schoolers. She explained her working-class background on the South Side of Chicago, and how she grew up right near the University of Chicago but never stepped inside.

It was a fancy college, and it didn't have anything to do with me,” she said.

Maybe kids around here feel that way about the White House, she suggested. “You know, you're living 10 minutes away from the power of this nation and the world -- the White House, the Capitol, all those buildings,” she said. “I know when I would come to visit, I would wonder what's going on in there.

“And I wanted to be a part of opening the doors and taking off the veil and saying, this is what's going on there. And one of the best ways -- or most fun ways for me to do that is to come and see you all, and do as much as I can, and eventually have you guys come see me in the White House -- one of these days, soon.”

She said Barack wished he could be there today, too, but he was away on business in California. “He was like, I want to do what you're doing,” said Mrs. O. “But I have the more fun job than he does.”

She invited questions. And ask they did – about life in the White House, her clothes, her kids, how she got to where she is.

Student: “Do you all still live like normal?”

Mrs. O: “You know, as normal as it can be, living in the White House with Secret Service.”

Student: “Why didn't they [the girls] come?

Mrs. O: “Because they're at school. One's in school and one's doing a service project, so they're busy today. And we try not to pull them out of their routines. You know, even when we're doing something special, at least my mother taught me that there was nothing more important than going to school and going on time, and doing your homework.”