Michelle Obama Reminds Us A Woman's Worth

by Melissah Yang

The Apollo Theater is known for wop-wopping bad talent off the stage, but Tuesday was no amateur hour. Stepping into the Harlem spotlight was First Lady Michelle Obama, who promoted girls education at the legendary theater as part of her latest effort to get 62 million disadvantaged girls across the world into schools. A thousand New York City girls, from places like Democracy Prep Public Schools and Girls Inc., filled the Apollo's red seats, and from their line of questioning, it was clear what young girls today most struggled with: their self-worth.

Hosted by Glamour magazine, "The Power of an Educated Girl" panel — which also featured actress Charlize Theron, former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, and 16-year-old Filipino youth ambassador Nurfahada from the Philippines — fielded questions from both the in-house audience and girls worldwide on how education can empower at-risk girls. But the biggest rise from the young buzzy crowd came after one girl asked how they could better address society's often low expectations of girls and why so many often put value on other things other than their education.

"There is nothing sexier than a smart woman," Theron answered. To which Obama added, that if she at a young age had valued a boy's attention over getting educated, "I wouldn’t be married to the President of the United States."

These kinds of answers reverberated in and out of every corner of the Apollo's carved acoustics. It's no secret there's a serious confidence gap between women and men in today's workplace. It's why women struggle to ask for the promotion or raise they deserve, which, in turn, contributes to women being paid 76 cents to the dollar. Much of that self-doubt breeds early in a girl's education.

And for girls like 17-year-old Ardyss De Leon of Girls Inc., both the message and the messenger came through. "I definitely found it unbelievable that I'm here in the same place as her," she tells Bustle. "I get to see and hear her speak, talking about what she's passionate about getting women and girls to go to school for a better education, for a better future."

Obama and hubby Barack first launched the Let Girls Learn initiative in March, and the first lady has taken the movement overseas, joining forces with Akie Abe, wife of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, to educate girls in developing countries. And while there is an international crisis of young girls being left behind with no education, the reality is there continues to be a lack of literacy on the home front. 2014 saw the highest high school graduation rate in history, with an average of four out of five teens receiving their diploma, according to the U.S. Department of Education, but 16 percent of girls still dropped out before graduation (boys came in even lower with 23 percent). Already there are more limited opportunities for educated women than men. Imagine what options you have when you don't have a high school diploma.

A product of Chicago public schools and graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law, Obama stressed that girls in America should take their education seriously. The first lady encouraged girls to build hype around learning by using the hashtag #LetGirlsLearn and sharing a photo of themselves with a line on what they learned in school. That way, girls can be "tweeting and Instagramming something other than your food and your shoes."

With less than two years left in the FLOTUS seat, Obama has continued to be a strong force in less partisan issues such as girls' education and childhood obesity. And even as she bows out of the White House at the end of her husband's second term, you can be sure Sandman Sims will never kick her off the international stage. "I learned that when I was young, I am worthy, and if I'm worthy, so are you," she said.

Image: Melissah Yang/Bustle