Michelle Obama Celebrates 3 Young Women Making Change at Saks' Holiday Event: 'They Blew Me Away'

Speaking with PEOPLE, the students discussed the Obamas' Girls Opportunity Alliance and shared their excitement at meeting the former first lady

Michelle Obama Saks
Michelle Obama. Photo: Neil Rasmus/BFA.

Saks Fifth Avenue on Monday unveiled its iconic holiday windows and 10-story-tall theatrical light displays with an appearance by a special guest: Michelle Obama, who welcomed three New York City high school students to help her press the button to begin the show.

"I met these amazing young women just a few minutes ago and in that short period of time, let me tell you, they blew me away," the former first lady, 57, said in a roughly seven-minute speech, introducing the girls as members of the Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation focused on teen girls and education.

The three 12th-graders — Jada Yelverton-Grave, Dreshta Boghra and Caitlin James — has each done advocacy and empowerment work with Girls Inc. Each of them also won a mentorship opportunity with Saks, which will take place in 2022.

"Meeting them just now reminded me of why I got involved in this issue of girls education in the first place," said Obama, who is the founder of the alliance.

She continued: "Back when our family was in the White House, I got to do a lot of traveling. And I got to meet a lot of really important people: kings and queens and other presidents and first ladies. But I also met thousands of young people like Jada, Dreshta and Caitlin …. Young girls who are the heartbeat of their countries and all of them, bright. All of them, smart. All of them, so incredibly passionate. All of them committed to learning and lifting up their families and their communities."

Michelle Obama Saks
From left: Caitlin James, Michelle Obama, Dreshta Boghra, Jada Yelverton-Graves. Neil Rasmus/BFA.

After Obama's speech, the three students joined her on stage to press the button to begin the light show and then sat by the former first lady in the front row to take it all in.

Speaking with PEOPLE at Monday's event, the young women discussed the alliance and spoke about their excitement at meeting the former first lady.

"It is an absolute honor. Michelle Obama has done so much in her life. She has accomplished so many amazing things and I am just so excited to be in her presence. It's absolutely amazing," Dreshta said.

Caitlin concurred, saying Obama's role in the White House and beyond was particularly important to young girls of color as it allowed them to feel represented in a way they previously hadn't.

"Representation is so important to me. Being able to see her in the White House, someone who looks like me — that to me was everything," Caitlin said. "Being able to meet her and see all the positive things that she's done, even in the school system, making nutrition really important and all of her initiatives, it's amazing to be able to see her or even meet her for a second."

"Girls empowerment is important because I think it's very important for girls to have someone to look up to. I think that that's why this is such a great opportunity, especially being here with Michelle Obama," Jada told PEOPLE. "That's an extreme role model and I'm so grateful to even be a part of that, and for other girls that are like me to maybe look up to me one day."

The event also served as a launch of a new Saks Collection supporting the Girls Opportunity Alliance and featuring products spanning categories such as women's and men's ready-to-wear, accessories, kids, home and beauty items.

Items from the collection — participating designers for which include Oscar de la Renta, Phillip Lim, and Fear of God, among others — are featured as part of this year's Saks holiday window display at its Fifth Avenue store.

Michelle Obama Saks
Michelle Obama at Saks. Neil Rasmus/BFA.

Saks — which also donated $1 million to the alliance as part of the campaign — said that 100 percent of the proceeds of items sold from the collection between Nov. 23 and Jan. 1 will be donated to the Girls Opportunity Alliance.

"So if you're buying something from this collection over the next week or few weeks, you'll not just be scratching something off your to-do list, but you're also going to have the opportunity to help secure a brighter future for girls all around the world," Obama said Monday. "And what a powerful way to embrace the holiday spirit, isn't it?"

Michelle Obama Saks
Michelle Obama. Neil Rasmus/BFA.

In a press release, Obama said the "contribution to the Girls Opportunity Alliance will help these girls to reach their full potential — and that's especially important as the pandemic continues to threaten their education, which would set us all back in the years and decades ahead."

The event will be available to watch on Saks Live starting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

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