That was the advice from former United States first lady, Michelle Obama.
In an hour-long question-and-answer session in front of an audience of 10,000 at the Palais des congrès in Montreal on Monday night, she spoke about confronting and overcoming prejudice, sexism and her own insecurities to succeed in her career, and about spending eight years in the world’s spotlight.
She said it is up to adults — particularly the business leaders present at the Palais des congrès — to ensure that young girls are encouraged, challenged and given the same opportunities as young boys. But it is also up to young people themselves to pursue as much education as possible.
“I urge young people to take school seriously,” she said. “On this one, please listen to your parents and get as much education as you can.”
Obama told them the foundation for everything she’s done and accomplished in life is education. She went to Princeton, followed by Harvard Law. But even though she’s gone far, doesn’t mean she hasn’t failed or that she hasn’t at times been filled with doubt.
“There were people who told me that I shouldn’t apply to the universities I applied to. They looked at me and saw a black person and they thought, well, black means lower expectations,”
Obama said:” Don’t listen to the haters and the doubters.”
This mindset is slowly changing for other women, propelled by social movements and strong female role models, but how fast the change occurs is ultimately up to men who must make room in executive offices and board tables, Obama said.
“Right now, women are so absent from so many tables. People of colour and different experiences are so absent at all these tables that there are perspectives people just don’t have. Men just don’t know everything … That’s not a criticism; that’s just a fact.”
“I say that to all the fathers, brothers and husbands in this room,” Obama said. “If you are not making space for women in your offices, just think about what that’s doing to the girls that you think you love.”
The event was organized by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, which also organized last year’s event featuring former U.S. president Barack Obama — who drew 7,900 people to his talk in June.
Among those present at Monday night’s event were Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, the wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Also present were about 2,000 high school, college and university students.