President Barack Obama may have delivered a keynote address at South by Southwest’s interactive portion, but his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, was on hand to usher in the festival’s music segment Wednesday morning with her own panel discussion. She was joined by a coterie of famous faces to discuss the Let Girls Learn initiative, which “aims to break barriers for the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school today, more than half of whom are adolescent.” Queen Latifah moderated the discussion, and One Tree Hill actress Sophia Bush, rapper Missy Elliott, and songwriter Diane Warren participated.
The First Lady’s keynote came one day after the Warren-penned empowerment track “This Is for My Girls” — featuring Elliott, Zendaya, Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monáe, Kelly Rowland, Lea Michele, Jadagrace, and Chloe & Halle — was released. The feminist-themed assemblage covered myriad equality topics, such as when each panelist realized their passion for furthering female education. “What I could do as a little girl — which is just try my best to control my own fate — I’m trying to carry that spirit over to these 62 million girls,” Obama said. “But it usually starts with something that moves you personally. And for me, 62 million girls not getting an education, that’s personally.”
Obama also noted what she would miss the most about her role as FLOTUS, saying, “Just experiencing this journey with our young people of all ages, I will miss that as First Lady. But I’m gonna keep doing it for the rest of my life, so it’s the people. You can’t be in public life and not love people.”
Answering a question from the audience, she clarified that she had no intention of ever running for president herself. “I’m going to continue to work with our young people all over the world. Not as president. I will not run for president,” she said, explaining that one of the reasons involved her children, Malia and Sasha.
“I’ve got these two young people at home. And being the kids, the daughters, of the president, just think about it,” she said. “They’ve handled it with grace and with poise, but enough is enough.”
Obama also snuck in some music talk, at one point singing a line from Boyz II Men’s 1991 single “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” when the subject of her husband’s soon-to-end second term came up. She also mentioned the album she loved most as a child. “My very first album of my whole life was [Stevie Wonder’s 1972 LP] Talking Book, and this bonded me to my grandfather,” she said. “I played that album over and over and over again — until [1976’s] Songs in the Key of Life, and then I played that over and over and over again.”
She went on to explain what about Wonder’s music moved her so much. “He talked about unity. He talked about love and peace. All of his songs were empowering, they were impactful. They were ones that would push you to look at change, to look at how you could effect the world. He’s just one of the greatest songwriters on the planet.”