Festival Coverage

Michelle Obama’s “Let Girls Learn” Speech at SXSW


AUSTIN, TX – Days after President Obama came to Texas to speak at the tech portion of SXSW, Michelle Obama, accompanied by a panel of female superstars led by Queen Latifah, rapper Missy Elliot, songwriter Diane Warren, and actress Sophia Bush; spoke as the keynote to kickoff SXSW Music Week, Wednesday morning.

The focus of Obama’s speech was on her “Let Girls Learn” initiative, a program that aims to help improve education quality for the 62 million girls around the world who aren’t in school for various reasons. The panel also spoke about the new single that was recorded to promote Let Girls Learn, “This is For My Girls,” featuring Zendaya, Kelly Rowland, Lea Michele, Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monae, and recent Parkwood Entertainment signees Chloe and Halle.

All of the panelists spoke about their experiences as women who never gave up on their goals, but emphasized that men and women should be allies in the effort to help women around the world. “There are a lot of ‘men only’ tables out there,” said Obama, “and if you want to strengthen your organization you have to bring women to the table as well.”

Obama cited economic reasons such as, countries with a larger population of educated women having stronger GDPs; and Queen Latifah pointed out that when women are able to be included in the professional workspace, it creates the ability to handle issues from a broader perspective.

Being that it was a music conference, the ladies also spoke about the artists they listened to growing up. Queen Latifah gave the most detailed response, talking about her experiences as the only girl in her crew as a young rapper and how that was a good experience for her because there was no sexism, just collaboration.

The First Lady wrapped up her speech with a couple questions from the audience, one of which created quite a stir. She was asked whether or not she would run for President. She unfortunately declined the possibility, stating that she’s had a wholesome experience as First Lady, and that it wouldn’t be fair for her family, especially her two daughters that are entering young adulthood. However, she did admit that she’ll miss being in the White House, and that she’ll miss helping and working with young people.

In a political climate where the loudest opinions always seem to be passionately against the Obamas, the First Lady’s discussion in Austin was in front of a friendly crowd that most likely wouldn’t exist outside of the city’s limits. She seemed relaxed and at home, which is fitting for a conference like SXSW where work and fun intersect every day, and stood as a perfect way to usher in the greatest music festival of the year.

-DJ Iron Mic