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Tenth Grade Students Treated to Visit from Famous Obama Friends

In celebration of Women’s History Month, two of First Lady Michelle Obama’s famous friends surprised a group of Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter High School (WMST PCHS) tenth graders on March 19. Debbie Allen, famed actress, choreographer and director, and Marissa Mayer, vice president, Google Search Products & User Experience, encouraged students to develop their passions and follow their dreams.

Allen shared her inspiring story of wanting to dance during a period of blatant racism while growing up in Houston. 

“I always wanted to dance,” she commented, “but because of racism, I could not go to dance school, so my mother moved us to Mexico where we could study dance.”

Eventually Allen returned to Houston and became the first African-American to join Houston’s Academy of Ballet. “Dance has been the vehicle to do whatever I wanted to do,” she said. Allen’s career made a natural progression from dance to Director of Choreography for the Academy Awards for 10 consecutive years to film directing. Allen shared her passion for archaeology and its relevance to her latest venture: directing a film about the real “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“I love science and history.  New information impacts our world view,” Allen said.

In contrast, Mayer grew up in Wassau, Wisc., and initially wanted to be a doctor, but became fascinated with computer science because “it challenged my thinking.”  In 1999, she became the first female engineer at Google in its infancy stage when there were a total of 20 people. Today, Google boasts a cadre of 20,000 employees.  Mayer leads the company's product management efforts on search products such as web search, images, news, books, products, maps, Google Earth, and the Google Toolbar.

“Find places or environments where you are comfortable, so you can break out of your shell,” Mayer said. 

Mayer also discussed her role as an educator. “Teaching  Introduction to Computer Science at Stanford University is very gratifying to me,” she continued, “because you become empowered in the face of technology.”

Students fielded to questions to Allen and Mayer about such topics as motivation, executive compensation, creativity, and choosing careers. Both women advised students to prepare themselves for hard work including long days and nights of reading, writing and research.

In parting, Allen and Mayer each shared their favorite quotes which served as inspiration and motivation.

Three-time Oscar winner Allen cited her mother, Vivian Ayres, for her favorite quote: “Be true…be beautiful…be free.”

Mayer cited Samuel Baldwin’s quote: “The world is before you…you need not take it or leave it as you found it.”

Allen and Mayer received WMST PCHS souvenir bags and posed for pictures with students.   This event was part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s celebration of Women’s History.  White House staffers accompanying Allen and Mayer to WMST included Jessica Blakemore, Advance Staff, and Yosi Sergant, Office of Public Liaison.