This is my first trip, my first foreign trip as a first lady. Can you believe that? (Applause) And while this is not my first visit to the U.K., I have to say that I am glad that this is my first official visit. The special relationship between the United States and the U.K. is based not only on the relationship between governments, but the common language and the values that we share, and I'm reminded of that by watching you all today. During my visit I've been especially honored to meet some of Britain's most extraordinary women — women who are paving the way for all of you.
And I'm honored to meet you, the future leaders of Great Britain and this world. And although the circumstances of our lives may seem very distant, with me standing here as the First Lady of the United States of America, and you, just getting through school, I want you to know that we have very much in common. For nothing in my life's path would have predicted that I'd be standing here as the first African-American First Lady of the United States of America. There is nothing in my story that would land me here. I wasn't raised with wealth or resources or any social standing to speak of. I was raised on the South Side of Chicago. That's the real part of Chicago. And I was the product of a working-class community. My father was a city worker all of his life, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. And she stayed at home to take care of me and my older brother. Neither of them attended university. My dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the prime of his life. But even as it got harder for him to walk and get dressed in the morning — I saw him struggle more and more — my father never complained about his struggle. He was grateful for what he had. He just woke up a little earlier and worked a little harder. And my brother and I were raised with all that you really need: love, strong values and a belief that with a good education and a whole lot of hard work, that there was nothing that we could not do.
I am an example of what's possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by the people around them. I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life: grandmothers, teachers, aunts, cousins, neighbors, who taught me about quiet strength and dignity. And my mother, the most important role model in my life, who lives with us at the White House and helps to care for our two little daughters, Malia and Sasha. She's an active presence in their lives, as well as mine, and is instilling in them the same values that she taught me and my brother: things like compassion, and integrity, and confidence, and perseverance — all of that wrapped up in an unconditional love that only a grandmother can give.
I was also fortunate enough to be cherished and encouraged by some strong male role models as well, including my father, my brother, uncles and grandfathers. The men in my life taught me some important things, as well. They taught me about what a respectful relationship should look like between men and women. They taught me about what a strong marriage feels like: that it's built on faith and commitment and an admiration for each other's unique gifts. They taught me about what it means to be a father and to raise a family. And not only to invest in your own home but to reach out and help raise kids in the broader community.
And these were the same qualities that I looked for in my own husband, Barack Obama. And when we first met, one of the things that I remember is that he took me out on a date. And his date was to go with him to a community meeting. (Laughter) I know, how romantic. (Laughter) But when we met, Barack was a community organizer. He worked, helping people to find jobs and to try to bring resources into struggling neighborhoods. As he talked to the residents in that community center, he talked about two concepts. He talked about "the world as it is" and "the world as it should be." And I talked about this throughout the entire campaign. What he said, that all too often, is that we accept the distance between those two ideas. And sometimes we settle for the world as it is, even when it doesn't reflect our values and aspirations. But Barack reminded us on that day, all of us in that room, that we all know what our world should look like. We know what fairness and justice and opportunity look like. We all know. And he urged the people in that meeting, in that community, to devote themselves to closing the gap between those two ideas, to work together to try to make the world as it is and the world as it should be, one and the same.
And I think about that today because I am reminded and convinced that all of you in this school are very important parts of closing that gap. You are the women who will build the world as it should be. You're going to write the next chapter in history. Not just for yourselves, but for your generation and generations to come. And that's why getting a good education is so important. That's why all of this that you're going through — the ups and the downs, the teachers that you love and the teachers that you don't — why it's so important. Because communities and countries and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women. And that's important to keep in mind.
Part of that health includes an outstanding education. The difference between a struggling family and a healthy one is often the presence of an empowered woman or women at the center of that family. The difference between a broken community and a thriving one is often the healthy respect between men and women who appreciate the contributions each other makes to society. The difference between a languishing nation and one that will flourish is the recognition that we need equal access to education for both boys and girls.
And this school, named after the U.K.'s first female doctor, and the surrounding buildings named for Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Mary Seacole, the Jamaican nurse known as the "black Florence Nightingale," and the English author, Emily Bronte, honor women who fought sexism, racism and ignorance, to pursue their passions to feed their own souls. They allowed for no obstacles. As the sign said back there, "without limitations." They knew no other way to live than to follow their dreams. And having done so, these women moved many obstacles. And they opened many new doors for millions of female doctors and nurses and artists and authors, all of whom have followed them. And by getting a good education, you too can control your own destiny.
Please remember that. If you want to know the reason why I'm standing here, it's because of education. I never cut class. Sorry, I don't know if anybody is cutting class. I never did it. I loved getting As. I liked being smart. I liked being on time. I liked getting my work done. I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world. And you too, with these same values, can control your own destiny. You too can pave the way. You too can realize your dreams, and then your job is to reach back and to help someone just like you do the same thing. History proves that it doesn't matter whether you come from a council estate or a country estate.
Your success will be determined by your own fortitude, your own confidence, your own individual hard work. That is true. That is the reality of the world that we live in. You now have control over your own destiny. And it won't be easy — that's for sure. But you have everything you need. Everything you need to succeed, you already have, right here.
My husband works in this big office. They call it the Oval Office. In the White House, there's the desk that he sits at — it's called the Resolute desk. It was built by the timber of Her Majesty's Ship Resolute and given by Queen Victoria. It's an enduring symbol of the friendship between our two nations. And its name, Resolute, is a reminder of the strength of character that's required not only to lead a country, but to live a life of purpose, as well. And I hope in pursuing your dreams, you all remain resolute, that you go forward without limits, and that you use your talents — because there are many; we've seen them; it's there — that you use them to create the world as it should be. Because we are counting on you. We are counting on every single one of you to be the very best that you can be. Because the world is big. And it's full of challenges. And we need strong, smart, confident young women to stand up and take the reins.
We know you can do it. We love you. Thank you so much.