‘To Meet Michelle Obama’ would be number one on the bucket list of countless people all over the world. LUNA DELLER from One World International School (OWIS) had the incredible opportunity of taking five students to do exactly that in Singapore at ‘An Evening With Michelle Obama’, an event held at Expo. The lucky candidates were Janelle Rego (IBDP), Sarah Pegg (Grade 10), Rehan Hariyani (Grade 10), Ruby Lim (Grade 9) and Ajani De Roock (Grade 9). We had a chat with Luna about what it was like for them meeting the first African American First Lady of the United States.
What was it like for you all to meet Michelle Obama and what impact do you think it had on your students?
A huge impact and it was amazing to meet her. We all talked to her before she went on stage. Michelle hugged me and asked if Singapore was my home! I explained that I had brought five students from OWIS who had been inspired by her work and that they were so excited to meet her. Michelle remarked that they must be brilliant students to have been selected. She’s right, they are! Then, our students had the opportunity to meet, hug and chat with the former First Lady of the United States. She was supportive and kind to each student while giving individual and meaningful advice. They were speechless and in awe when they took their seats.
Mrs Obama is a strong advocate for empowering girls and young women. Were there any messages that stood out that echoed this?
Yes, absolutely. In particular, she reflected on one question asked by a young woman before she went on stage: ‘How do you deal with self-confidence?’ This is a big hurdle for most women and girls, and it resonated with Mrs Obama. The question was actually asked by one of our OWIS students – I was so proud! Mrs Obama said that you have to practise to overcome self-doubt and ‘imposter syndrome’. This is especially true if your background is different from the others at the table or the expected norms. She emphasised, ‘I want kids to know this: there’s no magic to getting here. It’s repetition and work. And failure. And doing it again and again and again’.
What were some of the other topics that she discussed?
Mrs Obama talked openly about many aspects of her life. She talked about miscarriage, about losing her inspirational father and sustaining a marriage through difficult times. She shared the complexities of political life and raising children with strong values in a world of privilege and prejudice. But most of her thoughts and advice were about navigating life as a young person and about how adults can support that journey.
Were there any parts of her talk that spoke to you as an educator?
I was pleased to find that Mrs Obama’s messages reflected the values that we have at OWIS. She explained how everyone’s story is important and that the world is full of people striving to do the right thing. But societal views of wealth, race, background and gender can stop these stories from being told. OWIS’s notion of being ‘one with the world’ is about breaking down these barriers and giving all students, irrespective of background, their own voice and power.
We also foster this in our IB programme by encouraging students of all backgrounds to challenge assumptions and to think for themselves. We want children to grow independent of their accepted social systems through research and inquiry.
One of the things we all loved about the Obamas in the White House was that they appeared to be engaged and enthusiastic parents. Did Michelle offer any parenting advice?
She did, actually! She said, ‘I’m a wonderful parent because I had wonderful parents.’ She was raised with strong values. Working hard, asking questions, being kind and being true to yourself were the steps to success. As parents, she feels that it’s their joint responsibility to encourage their children to have a voice, ‘If you want your children to have a voice, you have to give them a voice at your table’. I like to think that the teachers and parents at OWIS do this. We help to develop an inquiring voice by giving students the safety and room to question the way the world works. This is the way to raise confident and successful thinkers.
What about her advice for young people?
She explained that ‘journeys are hard for all of us’ and that ‘the self-doubts you have were put there by society’. That really spoke to me. This message is at the heart of the OWIS philosophy; the importance of allowing children and young people to ask questions respectfully and with kindness. We believe that having the opportunity to question how the world works enables young people to understand for themselves how society functions. This gives them the tools to make changes for the better.
Was there a take-home message that stood out for you, either personally or professionally?
A famous quote of Mrs Obama’s explains how our OWIS culture of kindness functions: ‘When they go low, we go high.’ Michelle’s personal way of life mirrors this. She explained, ‘I wake up every day and I speak to people with kindness and empathy and I don’t expect that the same will come back to me’. Her message is clear: we are the ones with the power to raise the bar. Only when we act with kindness and take responsibility for how people around us feel, will society as a whole become kinder. ‘We’re the ones that are going to save us.’ I really loved that.
One World International School is at 21 Jurong West Street 81.
6915 6700 | owis.org