25 may 2011

First Lady Michelle Obama visits Oxford

University

First Lady Michelle Obama visited Oxford University today, Wednesday 25 May 2011.

Mrs Obama talked to students from the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College (EGA), a secondary school for girls in North London, in Christ Church. The girls had a day-long university “immersion experience” at Oxford.

In her speech she told the girls that great universities like Oxford had a lot to offer them, and they had a lot to offer great universities like Oxford - and encouraged them to aim high. 'Oxford is one of the most renowned universities in the world... If you can see yourself here in Oxford, you can see yourself anywhere,' she said.

Gesturing around her to the dining hall of Christ Church, the First Lady told the girls: 'Look around you at this – a renowned university that has trained so many of the world’s brightest minds and greatest leaders. And I’m not the only one that’s excited to see you all here today. Students and faculty at this university were eager to visit with you all as well. And there’s a reason for that. It’s because all of us – and it’s important for you to know that – all of us believe that you belong here. That this is a place for you as well. We passionately believe that you have the talent within you, that you have the drive, you have the experience to succeed here at Oxford and at universities just like it across the country and across the world.'

She told the girls: 'I know that you spend each day with girls from many different countries, who speak 59 languages, at your school. So you’re already learning how to fit in to a university like Oxford which has students from more than 140 different countries.'

She added: 'All of us who brought you here today don’t just think that universities have a lot to offer you. We believe that you all have a lot to offer these universities… We very much want you to believe that’s true as well.'

Mrs Obama drew on her own experience growing up from a modest background on the South side of Chicago and going to study at Princeton. 'I remember back when I was your age trying to decide which school I would apply to, and well-meaning but misguided people sometimes questioned whether someone with my background could succeed at an elite university. And when I was accepted at one of those universities, I had all kinds of worries and fears and doubts before I entered. I worried that I wouldn’t be as well-prepared as students who had come from more privileged families; I worried that I wouldn’t fit in somewhere so different from where I’d grown up, or with people whose backgrounds were so different from mine. But after a few months in college, away from home on my own, I realised that I was just as capable, and I had just as much to offer.'

She added: 'I realised that if I worked hard enough I could do just as well as anyone else. I realised that success is not about the background you’re from; it’s about the confidence that you have and the effort you’re willing to invest.'

The visit to Oxford from the girls from EGA is one of many hundreds of events with schools and colleges run by Oxford every year. Thirty-seven EGA students spent the day taking part in tours, discussions and mentoring sessions to encourage them to learn about the university experience and higher education. Their day ended with a chance to meet and talk with Mrs Obama at Christ Church.

In the morning the girls visited the Pitt Rivers Museum. The University's world-renowned museums and collections work extensively with young people, offering programmes designed to inspire young people and to enhance the school curriculum. 80,000 young people a year visit the museums on school trips in addition to the daily family-friendly activities on offer.

The girls were welcomed by Dr Sally Mapstone, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) and met their 14 student mentors, current Oxford undergraduates who accompanied the group throughout the day. One of the undergraduates they met during the day was Clarissa Pabi, a former EGA pupil who is now an Oxford undergraduate, studying English Literature at St Anne’s College, who spoke to the girls in the session with Mrs Obama.

Leading female academics discussed their research with the students, giving them a chance to ask questions and offer their views before discussing the talks with their student mentors. Anthropologist Dr Laura Peers, astrophysicist Professor Katherine Blundell and zoologist Professor Sunetra Gupta gave the talks. Later, they heard from Professor Ngaire Woods about global governance. Role models were a key part of the day and as well as the First Lady herself the girls were able to look to the current students and the female academics. One of the students, telling Mrs Obama about the morning’s activities, noted: ‘We have been inspired by presentations from four women [who] have achieved without limits in their own respective fields.’

Michelle Obama

Students also visited the Ghost Forest exhibition on deforestation outside the Oxford University Museum of Natural History before having lunch with their student mentors at Wadham College. They walked from Wadham to Christ Church for the talk by Michelle Obama via some of Oxford’s most famous landmarks, including the Bodleian Libraries, the Sheldonian Theatre and the History of Science Museum.

Mrs Obama has had a connection with the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school since she made a surprise visit there in April 2009 during the Obamas’ first official UK visit. The Office of the First Lady has stayed in touch with the school community since then.

Oxford is one of the most renowned universities in the world... If you can see yourself here in Oxford, you can see yourself anywhere.

Michelle Obama

The school, named after Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to gain a medical qualification in the United Kingdom, has as its mission educating young women for the future. Many of EGA’s students are from economically and ethnically diverse communities and more than 90% speak English as a second language.

Professor Andrew Hamilton, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, greeted Mrs Obama as she arrived along with The Very Revd Christopher Lewis, Dean of Christ Church. Welcoming everyone to Oxford, he told Mrs Obama: ‘It is a real honour to have you with us today. And no less welcome are our guests from the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson language academy in North London, who have been getting a taste of – and perhaps even a taste for – Oxford during the day. It’s wonderful to have you here... At Oxford we offer some of the best educational opportunities anywhere in the world. And it is our mission to ensure that we offer those opportunities to those young people, regardless of background, best able to take advantage of them.’

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