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A little risk can be a good thing, Michelle Obama tells area students

Updated: 2013-06-30T01:57:53Z

By MARK MORRIS

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City-area students got to spend time Saturday with Michelle Obama, even though the first lady was half a world away.

About 40 middle- and high-schoolers gathered in a Google Fiber conference room for a globe-spanning video hangout with Obama, who also addressed students in New York, Houston and Los Angeles from an auditorium in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is on a trip with President Barack Obama.

The topic was education, and Michelle Obama reminded students what former South African President Nelson Mandela, now hospitalized with a persistent lung infection, had to say on the topic.

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” she said.

But the message that appeared to hit closest to home for the Kansas City teens was Obama’s admonition to brush off youthful failures, take educational risks and get out of your comfort zone. Her husband, for example, didn’t always make the best decisions as a teen, she said.

Lindi Oyler, a 16-year-old incoming junior at Winnetonka High School, said the message resonated.

“The mistakes you make in your teenage years, unless they’re big mistakes, don’t matter,” Lindi said. “Even if you make those mistakes, it’s a step to your goals and dreams.”

The local students attending the program are participants in summer camps focusing on science, technology, engineering and math sponsored by the KC STEM Alliance.

Two local students addressed Obama directly during the one-hour session.

During the first cut-in to Kansas City, a host in South Africa asked how social networks help with education.

Judy Wang, who will be a junior at Blue Valley North High School, was primed for the question. She had just used social networking to collaborate on homework with classmates.

“When you have group projects you’re able to communicate with each other face to face, like over Google Hangout or Skype, so it’s easier to collaborate and share information,” said Judy, 16.

The first lady approved.

“I’m sure your parents would agree that’s a better use of social networking,” Obama said. “As a mother, I agree.”

Cayla Daniels, from Summit Lakes Middle School, got her chance near the end of the program, when Obama polled students on their ideal jobs. Kids from other cities picked filmmaker, journalist and patent lawyer. But given the conversation’s topic and its global reach, Cayla’s answer stuck the landing.

“With my education, I plan to pursue a teaching job to teach kids in third-world countries,” said Cayla, 13.

“Excellent!” Obama replied.

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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