February 9, 2018

Michelle Obama

MOTIVATING THE MASSES — Michelle Obama, former first lady of the United States, will talk to a packed house during “A Moderated Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama” on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

When Shortridge High School Principal Shane O’Day told 30 of his senior girls they would be in the same room with former first lady Michelle Obama, the group of usually mild-mannered students lost their composure.

Some girls squealed and clapped their hands with excitement. Some nearly jumped out of their seats, and others – more stunned than anything else — looked around the room at their peers in amazement.

One student had a different reaction.

“I actually started crying for a little bit. I was completely in shock,” said 18-year-old Alexandra S., who admits she wasn’t sure why O’Day wanted to talk to them. “I thought maybe it was about getting strict on dress code or something like that.”

To say Alexandra is excited doesn’t capture the totality of how she feels about this opportunity.

“Honestly, I just love Michelle,” said Alexandra. “She’s just a very empowering woman — a public figure you can look up to and somebody you want to be when you’re older.”

Nearly 300 IPS female students and their chaperons will be among thousands attending “A Moderated Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama” on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The event is sponsored by the Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, the same organization that gifted the tickets to IPS. 

“The Women’s Fund has a great relationship with IPS and many of our grantees support girls in the IPS district,” said Jennifer Pope Baker, Women’s Fund executive director. “To be able to share this opportunity with young women in IPS high schools is something exciting.” 

Each IPS high school received a set number of free tickets, along with an opportunity for district journalism students to be part of the media pool and cover the event like working journalists. The Women’s Fund left the decision to the district on which students would attend.

IPS chose to distribute the bulk of its tickets to female students.

“Women’s Fund did not place a restriction on how the tickets were used, but we are excited to hear how the tickets have been distributed because it aligns with our mission to give women and girls empowering opportunities,” said Pope Baker.

Choosing the girls from Shortridge was easy for O’Day. He simply picked all 30 female students in the senior class (including those in the Life Skills program).

Marysa P., 18, isn’t concerned about how the students were chosen, she’s simply glad she is part of the group of Shortridge girls who get to attend — even if she thought it was a joke at first.

“My initial reaction was just a gasp of shock. I already knew she was coming but I had heard the tickets were sold out,” said Marysa. “So, my initial response was, ‘This has got to be a joke.’ But I knew it wasn’t a joke because they wouldn’t tell us this and play a joke on us. It’s not some senior prank in reverse. But after that initial thought process, I got really excited and happy and automatically thought about who (Michelle Obama) is to me and how I’m finally going to see somebody that I look up to in the world.

“… I look up to her because she’s a strong, open-minded woman, who takes criticism so well and turns it into the best opportunity for not just young girls’ minds but everybody’s minds. It shows them that they can be confident in themselves no matter what flaws are pointed out.”

O’Day is appreciative of the Women’s Fund and the opportunity it is affording not just girls from his school but all of the IPS students who will be in attendance.

“When we talk about the promise of education (to ensure individuals are able and willing to access the world of ideas and give back to their communities, to be leaders, to be heard, to be empowered), the opportunity to go and see a significant figure like the former first lady Michelle Obama is aspirational. It’s inspirational, but it’s aspirational,” said O’Day.

While Shortridge is known for its academic rigor, the only “assignment” O’Day has given his students for this event is to soak in the moment and then share the experience with others.

Marysa has no doubt she’ll ace this task.

“That’s easy, because I’m probably going to talk about this my whole life,” she said.

Pope Baker hopes students will leave the event with enough inspiration and knowledge to last a lifetime.

“We hope these young women will learn that Mrs. Obama was not born into a life of privilege, quite the opposite,” said Pope Baker. “She worked and studied hard to create options and opportunities for herself. She had great support from her family in striving for her goals, but she knew it was up to her to work hard so she could go to a good college and chart her course to a lifetime of success. We hope they can start to envision their future story as they hear from Mrs. Obama.”