ABC News' Yunji de Nies Reports:
Michelle Obama welcomed nearly two dozen 10th and 11th grade girls to the White House this afternoon, kicking off the First Lady’s leadership and mentoring initiative.
“Mentoring has been something that has been important to me forever,” Mrs. Obama told the group, "The one thing I knew I wanted to do was to use this platform as First Lady to expand the mentoring role."
"I really want kids, young people in this nation to know that when they think of the White House that they think of a place that is open to them. A place where there are folks who really care about their development and want to listen and be part of your growth and want to invest in you as a resource," she said.
The students in the program attend Washington D.C., Maryland or Virginia public and private schools, a number of them are also from local military families who have a family member serving abroad or who have had a family member lose their life while serving. Principals from the students’ schools were asked to select girls who they believed would benefit the most from such a program, not necessarily the highest or lowest achieving students.
The First Lady touched on familiar themes - telling the group that there is no "magic" to her nor the President, but that they achieved their success thanks to caring adults throughout their lives.
"One thing that we did have were parents that cared about us, a few people in our lives that really took an interest, people who really wanted us to flourish. And that's really all that it takes. It doesn't take anymore than consistency and love," she said.
Mrs. Obama said throughout her adult life, she and her husband have shared the desire to be "bridge builders."
"When we came to the White House, we thought 'Wow, we've got the most powerful seat in the land to help be a bridge builder. And we thought, 'What can we do to make the White House different? To make kids in our own neighborhood know that the White House is a place for them?'"
"The President of the United States hears you and values you and cares about your growth and development, so that's why we started this program. I am so excited and moved to have you all here," she said, her voice cracking as she seemed to almost choke back tears.
The students will each be matched with a White House staffer. The mentors are all women - a mix of the East Wing (Desiree Rogers, Susan Sher and Camille Johnson) and West Wing (Valeria Jarrett, Melody Barnes and Christina Romer). Mrs. Obama will not take on a specific mentee, rather she will meet with all of the girls involved. The specifics of the program are still being worked out, but aides say the young women will meet on a monthly basis with their mentors, most likely in groups. Aides say the First Lady wants to make sure the students learn “life skills” – basics like how to balance a checkbook, how to apply for student loans, write a college essay, how to speak in public, a skill they say the communications team will be involved in. In the future, some of the students may accompany the First Lady on various public engagements.
The First Lady says she is asking the girls for just one thing in return: "When you get to this position in your life, that you do the same thing for somebody else," she said.
"It doesn't take much to pull somebody up," Mrs. Obama continued, "We keep doing that as women, holding one another up, pushing each other forward, there's no telling what we can do."
The First Lady’s office says the West Wing will launch a similar program for boys in the near future. The White House hopes to inspire adults around the country to get involved and mentor students in their communities.
Mentors in attendance today:
Cecilia Munoz Lisa Brown Melody Barnes Cassandra Butts Mary DeRosa Danielle Gray Heather Higginbottom Nancy Hogan Camille Johnston Desiree Rogers Cecilia Rouse Sonal Shah Susan Sher Liz Sears Smith Tina Tchen Heather Zical Beverly White
Mentors not attending today:
Dr. Jill Biden Carol Browner Martha Coven Anita Dunn Alyssa Mastromonaco Christina Romer Valerie Jarrett
FLOTUS Fashion Watch: Mrs. Obama wore brown pinstripe slacks, a pink shirt, leopard print cream, brown and pink cardigan with gold embellishment, topped with a large brown belt.