Friday, 27 May 2011
The sense of excitement in Oxford on Wednesday afternoon was palpable.
Police in fluorescent jackets lined St Aldate’s, a helicopter hovered overhead and an acrobat walked across a tight rope on Cornmarket. Oh yes, and just down the road at Christ Church, Michelle Obama was encouraging a generation of schoolgirls to aim high and achieve their potential.
The First Lady’s connection with girls from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College in Islington dates back two years. She first visited the school in 2009 and stayed in touch afterwards, an impressive feat in itself considering her whirlwind, and worldwide, schedule. This time round she met 37 girls from the school during their day-trip to Oxford to learn about the university experience and higher education. After meeting academics, talking to students and visiting Oxford landmarks like the Bodleian Library and Sheldonian Theatre (pictured above), the teenagers rounded the day off by filing into the dining hall at Christ Church (now famed as the Hogwarts dining room in the Harry Potter films) to hear Michelle Obama speak to them.
As she recalled her own path from a modest Chicago background to studying at Princeton, she told them: “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.”
Michelle Obama was inspiring, wise and warm. She answered the girls’ questions – from how long before the US has a female President to how to pick a good husband – and gave each of them a heartfelt hug. As one 15 year old wrote in The Times afterwards: “My name is Aneesah Siddiqui. If I hadn’t met Michelle Obama, you would probably have never heard it. But now – watch this space!”
After an hour and a bit, the police stopped the traffic once more, the First Lady’s cavalcade swept past in a flash and the First Lady, resplendent in white, smiled and waved from the window. The crowd waved back and seconds later the centre of Oxford looked the same again. But girls listening to Michelle Obama that afternoon will remember it as the day that changed their lives.