Thank you, Brigadier General Miller, for that warm introduction. And thank you to Maria for the invitation to be here today and to all of the organizers who have worked so hard to make this event possible.
It is wonderful to stand before such an amazing group of women. I am excited to join you and I'm especially happy to be here with my wonderful partner and dear friend, First Lady Michelle Obama. Michelle and I have been on an amazing journey together, partnering on issues related to military families, and supporting each other on issues like education, childhood obesity, and women's health. We have been so inspired by the tremendous spirit and dedication of the amazing people we've met in our travels across this country.
I have been an educator for almost 30 years, and I continue to teach English full-time at a community college not too far from the White House. So education for me is not an abstract policy debate - it's about real people who lead real lives.
That's why it's no surprise that of all the accomplishments of this Administration, I am most proud of our commitment to education.
The President knows that without good schools, good teachers, and supportive families, kids struggle to get ahead. We are working hard to improve our schools, including the community college system, which, as you might imagine, is a particular focus of mine.
Many of you may know that the President and I hosted the first-ever White House summit on community colleges earlier this month. What you may not know, is that community colleges are the largest, fastest-growing segment of higher education, and well over half of the students in community college are women—some right out of high school, but many coming back after having their children - looking to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Women like Carla Mannes.
I met Carla last spring at a community college in Arizona. Carla is a single mom who spent the last 25 years, raising four children, and successfully putting them through school. Over the years, Carla tried to return to the classroom herself - but the timing was never quite right. Carla explained that she never thought of herself as very smart because she didn't have a college degree. Last summer, Carla gave it another shot and enrolled in classes at her local community college - this time with a commitment to finish. Carla is on the path towards a degree in Social Work, and her goal is to mentor young women who feel lost and unloved.
Students like Carla are my heroes. They are doing their part - getting an education and working hard to make a future for themselves.
I see every day that people across this country, are making extraordinary efforts to improve their lives—and the lives of their families.
People like Carla. People like Lorene Nelson and Joy Foster who have turned their own struggles with breast cancer into powerful advocacy and support for other women.
My involvement with breast cancer started in 1993, when four of my close friends were diagnosed with this terrible disease. One of my friends lost that battle, and I decided to use my training as an educator to start a dialogue with young women about breast cancer education and early detection. Since that time, the Biden Breast Health Initiative has educated more than 10,000 high school girls about proper breast health. I started this initiative because I wanted to encourage young women to take responsibility for their health, and today I am so proud that the President's Health Reform law will make early detection easier.
Now, millions of women and families have access to quality affordable, comprehensive health insurance. And they deserve no less.
One of the best parts of my role as Second Lady is the time I spend meeting service members, military families, veterans and wounded warriors—people who honor us with their service across this country and around the world.
As you heard, I'm a military mom myself, and I will never forget the day my son told me he joined the National Guard. He was already a lawyer with a young family but he felt strongly that he wanted to serve our country. I can honestly say that I worried every single day that he was deployed in Iraq. So, I understand all too well the mixture of pride and fear that all military families share.
Since being in the White House, I have had the opportunity to travel and meet troops and their families around the country and overseas. I am always particularly humbled by the female soldiers I meet - women like Brigadier General Charlotte Miller, who so graciously introduced me this morning.
Today, women make up 15% of the military and they serve in leadership positions in every branch of the service. In recognition of that evolution, the President is expanding and enhancing care for women veterans, and looking for ways to expand childcare.
This year, I traveled to Iraq with my husband, Joe, to visit our troops over the Fourth of July. I had lunch with several female soldiers—many of whom were mothers. These women are managing all the challenges of parenting—arranging health care, child care and education—thousands and thousands of miles away from their homes and loved ones.
One woman across the table fought back tears as she told me that she missed out on taking her youngest child to college a few weeks earlier. I was at a loss for words - all I could do at that moment was reach across the table, and squeeze her hand.
I was struck by these women—fiercely proud to serve this country, but still struggling with some the same everyday challenges we all face here at home.
In my international travels in the past two years I have witnessed the strength and spirit of women in so many different situations—from the teacher who was committed to rebuilding her classroom in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, to the amazing young woman named Aliya who hosted me at a girl's empowerment center in Kenya—a center located right in the middle of one of the largest, most shocking slums in the world. In the face of devastation and unimaginable challenges, these resilient women are building brighter futures for themselves and their communities.
This room is full of successful, enterprising women and I imagine most of you are actively engaged in your communities.
I hope you keep up your good work, look for ways to support other women, to mentor, to commit to an act of kindness for a military family, or to find another way to share your strength through service.
The power of the community of women is immense. Let's put it to good use.