Michelle tells students: 'Work hard and don't be afraid to fail'

 

She spoke framed between portraits of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in the grandest and most elite of Oxford colleges that has educated thirteen Prime Ministers.

Her audience were 40 young girls from an inner London state school - turned down by a Tony Blair for his daughter - where 50 languages are spoken.

It was symbolism laid on with a trowel - but somehow still strangely affecting.

Despite being tall, in person Michelle Obama is smaller than she appears on television. And she seemed dwarfed - almost cowed - by her surroundings in the great hall of Christchurch College as she spoke quietly without a microphone because of a technical glitch.

"I remember how well-meaning but misguided people questioned whether someone with my background could succeed at an elite university," she said.

"When I was accepted I had all kinds of worries and doubts.

"I wouldn't be as well prepared as students from privileged families and I wouldn't fit in.

"But you are just as capable and have just as much to offer as anyone else," she told them.

This was Mrs Obmama's only solo outing during the state visit and part two of an unusual relationship which she has struck up with the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson College in Islington.

Two years ago on her first visit to the UK she visited the school - where one in five pupils are the children of refugees - and it struck a chord.

"I want you to know that we have very much in common," she told them then.

Yesterday she returned to meet the pupils but this time at Christchurch College where they were taking part in an open day run to improve Oxford's still poor record on diversifying student intake.

In a question and answer session with the girls Mrs Obama was asked why she married her husband ("I always thought he would be useful but I had no idea he would be President").

What it was like being First Lady ("It goes from very mundane and normal to 'Oh my God who could ever have dreamed of that'"). To when will there be a female President in the White House ("Hilary Clinton is a fabulous leader and my husband had a formidable opponent.")

Her message - which she repeated time and again - was work hard, have self belief, don't be afraid to ask questions and don't be afraid to fail.

It was Evangelical, very un-British, but rather effective. Afterwards there were hugs for everyone and a photo in the grand Christchurch quad.

And watching the group of multi-cultural young Briton's surround her amid the splendour of the college building two thoughts stood out.

Had Mrs Obama been born in Britain she would almost certainly not have made it to Oxford as she did to Harvard.

But now - thanks in part to her - some of these children just might. Symbolism indeed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Nurse and Room Leader - Hackney

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a qualified childcare p...

AER Teachers: PPA TEACHER/MENTOR

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This is a large and vibra...

AER Teachers: EYFS Teacher

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: EYFS TEACHERAn 'Outstanding' Primary ...

AER Teachers: YEAR 3 TEACHER - PREPARATORY SCHOOL

£27000 - £40000 per annum: AER Teachers: YEAR 3 TEACHER - PREPARATORY SCHOOLA ...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement