Paul Morigi—Getty Images for Glamour
November 11, 2016 1:27 PM EST

Michelle Obama’s parents helped spark her passion for providing underserved young women with an education.

In an interview conducted by actress Zendaya Coleman for Teen Vogue, Obama discussed how her own educational experience led her to launch Let Girls Learn, an initiative aimed at providing a high quality education to girls in areas of conflict and crisis.

“I was an incredibly devoted student, and I would often wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning to study,” Obama told Coleman. “But even so, there were still people who thought that a girl like me with a background like mine wasn’t really ‘college material.’”

The first lady, who has degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law School, was raised on the South Side of Chicago by parents who didn’t have college degrees. But Obama said her father, who struggled with multiple sclerosis, and mother imparted the importance of hard work on her.

“My dad was a pump operator at the city water plant, and he didn’t earn much money. But he was determined to pay whatever tiny part he owed for my tuition on time every month. So even though he had multiple sclerosis and often struggled just to get dressed in the morning, he hardly ever missed a day of work,” Obama said. “His determination and love are an inspiration to me every day.”

Obama said that the initiative has allowed her to meet a number of young women across the globe who are determined to get an education and achieve their dreams — and those young women will motivate her to continue to work on the issue even after she leaves the White House in January.

“I see myself — and my daughters — in these girls,” Obama said. “Once you get to know them, you can’t just walk away. I plan on working on this issue for the rest of my life.”

Read the full interview in Teen Vogue.



Write to Samantha Cooney at

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