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Students’ delight as Michelle Obama returns to Angel school

Almost a decade after her first visit, former First Lady tells of her ‘pride’ at special connection to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

07 December, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Michelle Obama at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson with Nustrath Hassan, right, and headteacher Jo Dibb

MICHELLE Obama imparted pearls of wisdom to the girls at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School and hugged dozens of pupils during her return almost a decade after her first visit.

There were loud screams from the 300 gathered schoolchildren as the former First Lady of the United States strode onto the stage at the school in Donegal Street, Angel.

There were dozens of TV crews with some travelling from as far away as France to see the Harvard-educated lawyer speak about the importance of female friendship and education.

Ms Obama was in London to promote her best-selling memoir, Becoming, in which she describes the positive impact her original visit to the school had on her time as First Lady.

Ms Obama chatting to pupils during her visit

She told the students: “This relationship that we built together is really one of my biggest sources of pride.”

Ms Obama said she was almost in tears after seeing the letters she had sent to the school congratulating them on their various successes through the years framed on the wall.

Of her initial visit to the school, which she made within two months of becoming First Lady, she said she had been “touched and inspired” by the students.

She added: “It gives me a level of focus and determination in the work that I do when I get to see you all up close and, as I said then, you remind me of me and all the fears and challenges that you face. You give me a sense of comfort. Being First Lady wasn’t the easiest job but I got strength in your hope of what I can do for you.”

The book describes how she saw herself reflected in the students of the school: “I almost felt myself falling backward into my own past.”

Former students Winnie Mac and Letrishka Anthony with, right, Nustrath Hassan

She wrote: “Looking up at the girls, I just began to talk, explaining that though I had come from far away, carrying this strange title of First Lady of the United States, I was more like them than they knew.

“That I, too, was from a working-class neighborhood, raised by a family of modest means and loving spirit, that I’d realised early on that school was where I could start defining myself – that an education was a thing worth working for, that it would help spring them forward in the world.”

During her talk, which was chaired by executive headteacher Jo Dibb and two former pupils, ­Let­rishka Anthony and Winnie Mac, Ms Obama advised the girls on the importance of “sisterhood”.

She said: “My girlfriends, we rely on one another. I don’t think children were made to be raised in isolation, we need help. We need to learn to ask for that help. Sometimes we are socialised to think you have to do it alone. I’ve done none of it alone.

“I want you all to start practising that kind of sisterhood. We don’t have the luxury of tearing each other down. Our job as women is to do our best at lifting each other up.

“In our friendships and the way we treat other women. There’s no room for mean girls.”

She hugged dozens of girls following her talk which lasted almost an hour.

Ruwayda Elmi, a student at the school, said after her hug from Ms Obama: “It was amazing. She called us her idols.”

Headteacher’s tears of joy when she read Obama memoir

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School headteacher Jo Dibb

THE executive headteacher of the school in Angel closely linked with Michelle Obama cried when she heard that her school was featured in the former First Lady’s memoir, writes Emily Finch.

Jo Dibb was headteacher of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (EGA) School in Donegal Street when Ms Obama visited back in 2009. Now, Ms Dibb is the headteacher of three schools alongside EGA and spoke to the Tribune ahead of Ms Obama’s second visit to the school on Monday.

She said: “I cried when I read the bit in the book. I had just come out of the gym and I cried.”

Ms Dibb was full of praise for the former lawyer and wife of Barack Obama who champions girls’ education.

“She had a huge impact on the school when she visited in 2009. She kept in touch with the school with absolute faith and authenticity– she invited us to Oxford University and we also went to Washington. It wasn’t just her flying in and saying a few nice words.”

Ms Dibb quoted the American civil rights poet Maya Angelou when describing how her students feel towards Ms Obama.

She said: “People never forget how you made them feel and Ms Obama made EGA students feel really special. They took on board the words she said about working hard, having aspirations and having big dreams. She made a really really big impression and having her back is hugely special.”

Winnie Mac, 22, who was in the audience during the first visit, spoke of how Ms Obama inspired her to help other young girls.

She said: “When I went on to college I came back to work with girls in their maths studies. She [Ms Obama] said something like, being smart was the coolest thing in the world, and I agreed with that. I wanted to encourage other people to think that way.”

Fellow former student Letrishka Anthony, 25, is now working in cancer research and was in the audience during the previous visit.

She said: “Michelle Obama is a very inspiring female, she sets the bar really high for us and shows us we have no limits. She comes from a humble background and shows us everyone can do anything they want to with a good education.”

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