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Words of wisdom from former first lady Michelle Obama have blessed the internet on this International Women’s Day. Obama is advising young women to “focus on school right now” and fail in a way that leads to success.
In a Refinery29 interview with four teenagers from different areas of the world, the former first lady addressed education as a priority and the fear of failure, which is more common for women than men. Men feel comfortable applying for a job “when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them,” according to Harvard Business Review.
“You cannot let your failures eat you up or make you want to quit,” Obama said in the interview with teenagers from Nepal, Ghana, Guatemala, and Chicago who both asked and answered questions. “You have to learn from [failures], let them challenge and inspire you to do more ― to take some risks and to step outside of your comfort zone.”
She added in an interview with Ghanaian teenager Pearl Niki Quarmyne that failure shouldn’t be a permanent state.
“I also think a key measure of success is how you handle adversity,” Obama said.
Adversity in education is common for young women. A United Nations report found in 2015 that 58 million children of primary school age are out of school worldwide. “More than half of these are girls and nearly three quarters live in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia,” according to the UN.
Quarmyne, who was raised in a small village in sub-Saharan Africa, told Obama that she watched female peers drop out of school because of the cost of educational materials. Another teen interviewed by Obama, Alejandra Teleguario Santizo from Guatemala, said she saw a friend “forced by her family to drop out and marry because she got pregnant.”
“When we give girls an education, it can help liberate them from that kind of life,” Obama said, speaking of millions of adolescent females who are told they are already finished with their education at the ages of 10 to 12.
Obama pointed out educated girls who marry later have lower rates of infant and maternal mortality and are less likely to contract malaria and HIV. They also boost an entire country’s GDP by contributing to the workforce.
“I always tell students that if you focus on school right now, you will have all kinds of freedom later on in your life,” Obama said. “You’ll have the freedom to choose a career you enjoy and to earn a living that supports your family. That is truly liberating. And that’s not just true here in America.”
Who runs the world? Girls—if the world will let them.
Grace Speas is a news reporter, covering streaming entertainment, internet culture, and viral politics.