KUALA LUMPUR – Former United States first lady Michelle Obama and one of Hollywood’s most recognizable leading ladies, Julia Roberts, teamed up on Thursday for a talk focusing on their joint efforts to empower girls to become future leaders.
Michelle Obama and Julia Roberts reflected on their trip to Vietnam to work with the Girls Opportunity Alliance – a program belonging to the Obama Foundation – and shared personal anecdotes in an on-stage conversation moderated by Malaysian presenter Deborah Henry in Kuala Lumpur.
“Intellect knows no gender. Possibility doesn’t know race. It doesn’t know religion,” Obama said at the start of her wide-ranging chat with Roberts and Henry before an audience mainly comprised of young people taking part in the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program. “Kids are born on this Earth with a thing in them – either it gets developed or it gets squandered.”
“To think there are 98 million girls out there that were born just like I was, just like Julia was, with a hunger, with a something in them that they know they have – regardless of what they’re told – and to have that not be invested in... that’s what sinks hopes, that’s what wastes minds and that’s what wastes resources,” the charismatic ex-FLOTUS, lawyer and writer added.
The colloquy was part of a five-day event that kicked off on Tuesday at the Malaysian capital gathering together 200 emerging leaders from 33 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific Region recently selected to participate in the foundation’s program. Activities include plenary sessions, workshops, leadership development training and community service projects.
“Our heroes are all here,” Roberts said as she addressed the diverse and youthful crowd attending the event. “We just maybe don’t know each others’ names.”
“I know that walking into every room, somewhere there is a new hero for me to discover,” the Academy Award winner added.
Obama, on the other hand, gave her own advice to the so-called Obama Leaders: “Trust your gut. And don’t get discouraged, because we can’t afford for you to be discouraged. You’re next up – we’re tapping out, and we’re tapping you in and what we want you to do is lead with compassion.”
“Stay high, ‘cause going low never works,” she concluded. “So good luck, and God bless you all.”
On Monday, Obama and Roberts, along with Jenna Bush Hager (the daughter of Barack Obama’s predecessor in the White House, George W. Bush), had toured a high school in rural Vietnam and met with female students to promote their schooling, urging the teens to stay committed to their education as a way to transform their lives.
“It will get tough at times – it already has for some of you – but it is well worth it,” Obama told the girls. “Even if your families don’t understand that today, trust me, they will when you go off to college or start your businesses.”
The former first lady, whose spouse sat in the Oval Office between 2009-17, recently published her bestselling memoir, “Becoming,” in which she detailed the personal experiences that led her to become a highly-accomplished, Harvard-educated attorney and university administrator, as well as a happy mother and prominent advocate for women and girls.