OXFORD, England (Reuters) - First Lady Michelle Obama combined a message of hard work with hugs on Wednesday as she drew on her own family life to inspire a group of London schoolgirls on a visit to Oxford University.
In the ancient vaulted hall of Christ Church college, Oxford, also known as Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter film franchise, Obama created some magic of her own for the rapt youngsters.
“She’s amazing,” one schoolgirl whispered excitedly on her way out, after Obama rounded off a speech and question and answer session with a hug for each of the 40 or so pupils visiting Oxford from London’s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school.
The EGA is the school Obama visited in 2009 on her first official visit to Britain.
The ethnically diverse school is in one of the most deprived areas of north London and has 59 languages spoken among its 900 female pupils.
The first lady, dressed in a white collarless blouse, thick white leather belt with gold buckles and black trousers, urged the girls who were on an open day visit to the world-famous institution to believe they could do anything if they were prepared to work hard enough.
“You should be pushing yourself to dream big because if you can see yourself in Oxford you can see yourself anywhere,” she said.
Michelle Obama grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago and went to a state school before winning scholarships to Princeton and Harvard law school.
”I used to think there was some magic that happened, I didn’t know back then it was just plain old hard work.
“But the more success you have, the more chances you take. You don’t let the failures and the stumbles defeat you.”
While answering questions from the youngsters, aged 12-15, Obama also spoke movingly about her daughters Malia and Sasha and described her first impressions of husband Barack.
“I call myself mom-in-chief not because I don’t value my career or education ... but the most important thing to me is raising strong women because that’s what my mother did for me,” she said in a heartfelt answer.
“The things I tell my girls are the same thing I would tell you -- don’t be afraid to fail, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, ask stupid questions and get laughed at. Trip and then get back up.”
Asked about when she first met Barack Obama, she said: ”When I met him I knew he was a special person. It was how he felt about his mother, his work ethic, he was smart, not impressed with himself and he was fun. We joked a lot.
“He loved his little sister and he was a community organiser. Coupled with that his talent and he was cute. I always thought he would be useful but I had no idea he would be president.”
EGA English teacher Holly Wilkins, who accompanied the girls, told Reuters Michelle Obama’s second meeting with the schoolgirls would have as big an impact as the first and help encourage many of them to apply to Oxford University.
“We say this a lot as teachers but it takes someone like that to say it for them to believe it, particularly for girls like ours who come from all sorts of backgrounds. Her story really resounds with them.”
Editing by Janet Lawrence