The First Lady's Ambassadors of Success

First Lady Michelle Obama visited a Washington, D.C. high school Thursday, and encouraged students to pursue their career goals. Video by AP
By DeNeen L. Brown and Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 20, 2009

First lady Michelle Obama and 21 other megawatt stars, billionaires, actresses, philanthropists and businesswomen met at the White House yesterday morning, where Obama told them their task was to go out to schools and share their life stories -- real stories and real challenges -- with students across the Washington area, and "make the kids understand where we stand is not an impossibility."

In the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, a quaint oval room with soft, pale carpeting and soft lights, the scene was jaw-dropping in its concentration of talent.

Actresses hugged singers. And singers hugged actresses. There was Sheryl Crow in black jeans and black platforms chatting with WNBA star Lisa Leslie. Across the room, actress and choreographer Debbie Allen, in a white baseball cap, was talking with actress Alfre Woodard. Near the back, actress Phylicia Rashad spoke with Olympic medalist Dominique Dawes.

Singer Alicia Keys, in jeans and a blazer with broad blue stripes, stood in front of an oil painting of George Washington, talking with actress Fran Drescher. Oscar nominee Woodard helped cosmetics company founder Bobbi Brown with her earring.

They all applauded when the first lady walked into the room.

Obama told those assembled that she had long envisioned an event like this, for which she would bring accomplished women together on one day to go to schools in the region and talk to kids -- girls especially -- to inspire them, to help them reach their goals. To dream big. To work hard.

Her office said planning for this event began in February to time it with Women's History Month.

"This was one of my dreams," Obama told the gathering of women. " . . . I couldn't have imagined this a year ago, but as we started moving towards this trajectory, that it became increasingly clear that Barack Obama might be the next president of the United States, and as I started thinking about the . . . kinds of things that I wanted to see happen, this day was one of those things -- gathering an amazing group of women together, and going out, and talking to young girls around this country."

She said she wanted students to feel close to the White House, to let them know they are welcome.

"The D.C. community, many of these schools need to see us," she said. " . . . Even though they've got this wonderful image of the White House, they need to be reminded that we are -- we're close, this isn't a distant relationship; that they can imagine the people who live here and what goes on here, and that there's a close connection between their lives and ours."

From the White House, a caravan of black vans and limousines pulled out of the circular drive, carrying the women to 11 high schools in the District and in Montgomery, Arlington and Fairfax counties.

Keys went to Dunbar High School with Gen. Ann Dunwoody, who broke the "brass ceiling" as the first woman to attain the rank of four-star general in the U.S. military.

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