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In Mexico, Michelle Obama urges students to aim high

The first lady, using herself as an example, says people from less privileged backgrounds can succeed.

April 15, 2010|By Katherine Skiba
  • On her first official trip abroad without the president, First Lady Michelle Obama and her Haitian counterpart, Elisabeth Delatour Preval, greet quake-displaced children in Port-au-Prince.
On her first official trip abroad without the president, First Lady Michelle… (Brennan Linsley / Associated…)

Reporting from Mexico City — In launching an international agenda of outreach to young people, First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday addressed students at a Jesuit college in Mexico with emotional remarks that were part confessional, part call to action.

Obama, a Princeton alumna with a Harvard law degree, told students that she entered college "filled with self-doubt."

She said she and President Obama came from families that were not wealthy, yet they prevailed despite "the sting of low expectations, the constant doubts about whether we could succeed, and whether we were even worth the effort."

In her remarks at Iberoamerican University, during the first full day of her first solo foreign trip, the first lady cited her own life, the president's and those of Abraham Lincoln and 19th century Mexican President Benito Juarez as examples of how people from less privileged backgrounds can achieve.

She talked of Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa as she urged the students to make a difference in the world, noting that young people were strong in numbers and responsible for the future.

"Today, we're seeing what has come to be called a 'youth bulge,' an explosion of the youth population in nations around the world," Obama said. "And the fact is that responsibility for meeting the defining challenges of our time will soon fall to all of you."

Obama told the students that she intended to focus her international work on engaging young people.

Obama's agenda on her first day in Mexico was loaded with children, culture, Aztec costumes and hip-swaying music. The visit, long billed as her first to another country without the president, became her second after Tuesday's surprise trip to Haiti.

Obama was escorted by Mexican First Lady Margarita Zavala, a lawyer, professor and former member of Congress.

The first ladies met at the exquisitely manicured and carefully guarded Los Pinos, the presidential home and office complex. They discussed issues important to young people, including drug-addiction prevention and humane treatment of unaccompanied migrant children, an Obama aide said.

Obama also visited an elementary school, Escuela Siete de Enero.

"Bienvenida, SenoraObama," read a banner at the school.

kskiba@tribune.com

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