In her own version of “Pay It Forward,” first lady Michelle Obama, who has often talked about the influence of role models in her life, announced a year-long mentoring program at the White House for area high school girls.
Monday afternoon, thirteen young women gathered around a polished wood table, austerely set with water glasses and blue folders, in the State Dining room for a get to know you conversation with the senior women from the White House staff who will serve as their mentors. That list includes a who’s who of fancy titles and impressive resumes — among them, senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, domestic policy advisor Melody Barnes, Obama’s chief of staff Susan Sher and social secretary Desiree Rogers.
The germ of the idea was planted in March when Obama invited a star-studded array of women, ranging from entertainers to math geniuses, to fan out across the area and share their stories with students. At the end of the day, the women and a group of girls gathered at the White House for dinner. The first lady, in today’s remarks, recalled that evening saying that “that was the best thing we’ve done so far.” She wanted to replicate that experience on a larger scale.
The young women, who were selected by their principals, will not be traditional interns but will be tutored by their mentors on everything from careers and financial literacy to how to write a college essay and health and fitness.
Obama said she became interested in the power of mentoring as a corporate lawyer in Chicago. Her office, she said, was on the 47th floor of a downtown building and her windows faced south towards her old neighborhood. Kids who were just as smart and capable as she was missed out on opportunities and successes “by a hair,” she said.
And then she got a bit verklempt. “We’ve got the most powerful seat in the land to be a bridge-builder,” she told the girls, her eyes tearing and voice cracking. “And I’m so excited and touched and moved to have you all here…. I can get emotional.”
A young men’s program, rooted in the West Wing, will launch soon.