Michelle Obama Advocates for Education in We Will Rise


First lady Michelle Obama’s latest project, We Will Rise, highlights the importance of educating girls around the globe. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Erin Cabrey 

Amid the chaos of the 2016 presidential election, it is hard to think about anything that is not the latest Donald Trump scandal. During this crazed election cycle we have lost sight of the positive changes brought by our democratic systems. At the top of this list is the first lady, Michelle Obama. In CNN Film’s latest release, We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World, the first lady focuses on a crucial global issue, one not split by party lines: the importance of education.

Let Girls Learn
In We Will Rise, Obama teams up with Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto and CNN journalist Isha Sesay to travel to Liberia and Morocco to meet with many girls who share their personal stories of their struggles to obtain an education. One story highlights Raphina, a 20-year-old whose single mother is unable to care for her children herself. As a result, she sent Raphina and her little brothers to live with her aunt and uncle instead of marrying Raphina off for a dowry or binding her to do housework at home. Here, Raphina earned her keep by doing most of the housework, but she was dedicated to her studies as well.

Obama sits down with many girls at a Liberian school during the film’s second half to discuss the struggles that they face while fighting for an education. Raphina speaks about many girls who lost family members to the Ebola crisis, telling the first lady that “they don’t really have people to encourage them and tell them they are valued in society. Some really want to go to school, but they don’t have educational support.” These challenges contribute to the depressing fact that 63 million girls around the world do not have access education, an issue that Michelle Obama is combating.

The Woman Before Washington
Obama’s life is one difficult to condense into a single column. Simply put, she is a role model. Obama is a proponent for women’s education, the creator of the “Let’s Move!” campaign to help combat childhood obesity and, among other things, a fashion icon.
Before she was first lady, she was Michelle Robinson, growing up in the south side of Chicago. Obama has always been hard-working and high-achieving, so much so that she skipped the second grade. She went to a magnet high school, where she commuted three hours every day and graduated as the salutatorian. She majored in sociology and minored in African American studies at Princeton University, graduating in 1983.
Obama then attended Harvard Law School, where she was deeply involved in diversifying the curriculum. Charles Ogletree, Obama’s Harvard professor, said in a March 2015 article published in Politico, “Always, everything she wrote, the things that she was involved in, the things that she thought about, were in effect reflections on race and gender. And how she had to keep the doors open for women and men going forward.”
After graduation, Obama worked for the Chicago law firm Sidley and Austin as an associate, where she met Barack Obama, a summer associate whom she was assigned to mentor. The rest is history, as both Obamas’ dedication to public service led them to a historical eight-year stay at the White House.

A Lasting Impact
As our nation prepares for a new president to be elected in a few weeks time, I must prepare for Michelle Obama to step down as first lady. This realization makes me incredibly sad. Over her eight years at the White House, she has become someone whom I revere and someone who I am proud to have represent our nation.

We Will Rise is one example, among countless others, that shows how Michelle Obama has cared for women as first lady. I will never forget the time when I was lucky enough to hear her speak at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival. She discussed the 62 Million Girls initiative that would help girls around the world attend school. She was introduced to the crowd by Beyonce, and if there’s anyone that can follow a performance by Queen B herself, it is Michelle Obama. In her speech that night, Obama expressed her belief in the “boundless promise of girls worldwide.” The crowd of young people clearly supported Obama’s efforts, with a few stray “I love you Michelle”’s breaking through the loud cheering.

Whether or not you have agreed with her husband’s policy over the past eight years should not cloud how you view the words and actions of Obama herself. She advocated for equal pay in the early days of President Obama’s first term. As her husband’s second term comes to a close, she is fighting to secure education for girls around the world and make woman in the United States and across the globe alike feel heard and valued.
Obama told the young women assembled to discuss the challenges of education in We Will Rise, “You don’t have to be somebody different to be important. You’re important in your own right.” Obama has been more to young women than just their first lady. She has been our advocate, our cheerleader, our friend and our voice. Though I am deeply saddened to see her go come Jan. 20, I know that Obama’s dedication and influence will continue far beyond her days in the White House.

First lady Michelle Obama’s latest project, We Will Rise, highlights the importance of educating girls around the globe. (Courtesy of Flickr)
First lady Michelle Obama’s latest project, We Will Rise, highlights the importance of educating girls around the globe. (Courtesy of Flickr)