Eight-year-old Fatima Ibrahim stood on stage Friday and introduced the woman giving the keynote address at the Lunch for the Girls, an annual fundraiser for Girls Inc. of Omaha.
“Her name is Chelsea Clinton,” said Fatima, a non-native English speaker who learned to read through Girls Inc. “Unlike me, she is the daughter of a president and a secretary of state. Other than that, we have a lot in common.”
Fatima explained that she loves to read chapter books and to dance — things she'd heard that Clinton loved, too.
After bending to shake Fatima's hand, Clinton said she indeed loved chapter books and dancing. She described the introduction as the best she had ever received.
The daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton told an audience of 950 people at CenturyLink Center she was glad to attend because she loves meeting girls like Fatima.
“I think it's important to listen to girls whenever we can,” Clinton said.
Girls ask different questions from boys, Clinton said. They ask them in a different way. They communicate differently and they collaborate differently — all of which give girls a different perspective that everyone can benefit from.
“We need everyone,” she said. “We need every girl and we need every boy.”
Clinton, 33, is a special correspondent for NBC News. A graduate of Stanford University, she holds two master's degrees and is working on a doctorate from Oxford University.
She noted that women now graduate from high school and college at higher rates than men, but they still earn less money for comparable work — about 80 cents on the dollar for white women, and even less for African-American and Hispanic women.
And in many fields — particularly science, technology, engineering and math — women hold far fewer jobs than their male peers. Currently, Clinton said, women hold only 16 percent of tech jobs.
“We need girls participating 100 percent in every field, in every aspect,” she said.
Clinton said she was hopeful that programs such as Girls Inc. help change that.
Some girls Clinton met on Friday had made rockets or designed robots. That, she said, was a good start.
Clinton said she wondered how her own grandmother might have benefited from a program like Girls Inc. In Omaha, the agency annually provides about 1,000 girls with mentoring, tutoring, after-school activities, field trips, meals and other help.
She explained that her grandmother Dorothy Howell Rodham was born to a teenage mother who abandoned her twice before sending her and her 2-year-old sister to live with their grandparents in California.
She got a job as a nanny when she was in her early teens but still found a way to finish high school. Many years later she attended college, and she served as a role model for both her famous daughter and granddaughter.
Clinton said her grandmother was fortunate to know that her life had value, even if her parents had sent her away.
But not every girl knows that, Clinton said. That's another reason it's important to listen.
Clinton ended her talk by calling two girls on stage and interviewing them.
Mychael Shields, 15, explained that Girls Inc. had helped her develop self-esteem. It's taught her how to manage her time, develop a budget and put together a résumé. Over the years she's participated in Girls Inc., it's become like a second home.
“They're like my second family,” Mychael said.
At one point Clinton asked how Girls Inc. was different from school.
Maykayla Bell, 18, replied that in school she might be asked to write an essay about a famous author, explaining what makes that author unique and important. In Girls Inc. she might be asked to write an essay about what makes her unique and important.
Bell's response drew applause.
Both girls plan to go to college. Mychael wants to study business, and Bell plans to study pre-pharmacy.
Both girls felt honored to share a stage with Clinton. Mychael said afterward that she was a little nervous beforehand, but once Clinton started asking questions, her jitters went away.
“It was like I was talking to one of my friends.”
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