By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON
First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off a leadership and mentoring program Tuesday, opening the White House to 20 high school girls who will pair up with top administration officials to learn life skills.
At a gathering in the State Dining room, Obama told the girls that mentoring has always been important to her, and that she wanted to use her platform as first lady to “expand the mentoring role.”
“In every part of government, there are women who are hungry to help bring you guys up,” she said. “I always wanted to be a bridge between kids like me and the possibilities that can propel them to greatness.”
Second Lady Jill Biden, White House advisor Valerie Jarrett, Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, and several members of the first lady’s staff and the senior staff in the West Wing will serve as mentors.
The 20 protégées, who are sophomores and juniors, were chosen by principals at area high schools and include young women from military families.
East Wing aides said that the program is a spin-off of the Women of Excellence event that Obama hosted at the White House in March, where celebrities, including Alicia Keys and Sheryl Crow, fanned out to local high schools to speak to young girls.
In the coming months, Obama will take that program on the road, aides said.
The West Wing also will launch a mentoring and leadership program for high school boys that the president will participate in, aides said.
The year long program headed by FLOTUS will include financial literacy training and exposure to different career paths, as well as possible field trips with the first lady, advisors said.
One student who is interested in foreign affairs wanted to know what she could get out of the program, and Obama suggested that through the State Department, there could be “access to ambassadors.”
“The resources are infinite in terms of women in this administration who want to share with you,” Obama said.
The first lady has stressed the importance of community service since moving into the White House; previously she ran a community service program in Chicago after leaving her job as a corporate lawyer. She has visited area schools and hosted hundreds of school children at the White House for gardening events as well as musical events.
She told the girls that with their unique opportunity, there is responsibility too.
“We have some expectations from you as well, that when you get to this position, you do the same for someone else,” she said. “And if we keep building in that way, holding one another up, there’s no telling what we can do.”