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Grace Li Headshot

Dear Mrs. Obama

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Dear Mrs. Obama,

I am writing to ask for a meeting with you, if possible. Please see my story below.

My mom grew up in a small village in Hunan, China. She was the third daughter in a family that wanted a son. She doesn't tell me much about her childhood -- we spend most of our time focused on the here and the now -- but what she says brings tears to my eyes. Her mom worked at a factory, and each day, the workers were given a ration of a small bowl of rice. That was their lunch. Her mom never ate any, and instead brought it home for her children, splitting it between her three daughters and her one son. My mom once stole a sweet potato from her family's farm out of hunger, and her father locked her in the pigpen. One time, when she was making the five-mile trek to her school with her best friend, she left her backpack at her friend's house. She realized this when the school was already in sight.

I'm not telling you this for any other reason except that it brings tears to my eyes, each and every time I think of it, and my own sufferings pale in comparison. I say it because I asked my parents for a car for my 16th birthday, when my mom's dearest wish at that age was for an egg. I say it because you're a mother, too, and can surely appreciate it. My mom is almost 50 now, and she works at Baylor College of Medicine, and we're a middle-class family that lives in the suburbs, and sometimes it's easy for me to forget that people live a whole different life out there. But I don't want to forget, because to live in a world constructed of falsehoods and fairy tales isn't living at all.

I'm Grace, and I'm the 15-year-old co-founder of We Care Act, a nonprofit organization. I started this organization with my two younger siblings after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China. All my extended family lives in China, so it's easy to see why this struck a chord in me. Or maybe it was because I sometimes get caught up in the daily dramas of life and lose sight of the big picture, which the earthquake brought so sharply into focus.

My parents came to America with nothing but their hopes and an education. The young earthquake victims had their chances for the same thing ripped apart. My siblings and I went to China that year with my parents and personally delivered the donations we had collected through the months after the earthquake. Just last year, my siblings and I went again and held an English workshop for the students there. And between those summers, my siblings and I kept in contact with the students of Duijiangyan through newsletters that talked about life in America, our customs, our dreams... and theirs. We called it Eclipse, because it was bringing two opposites together as one.

Recently, We Care Act has received recognition for what we've done, and adults and children alike look at us and wonder how children could have the audacity to try and change the world. I smile at them and thank my parents.

I'm sure you've gotten thousands of letters saying that you're a role model. Here's one more. You inspire me, not just as the First Lady, because that's a title that's yours by default, and not just as a woman, because that's natural and unchangeable, but as a mother, because that was a choice you made and also the hardest job anyone will ever have. Or at least, that's what my mom tells me.

I was in Washington, D.C. from Aug. 7 to 10, my 16th birthday, with my mom and my younger sister, attending GenerationOn and Parade Magazine's awards ceremony for the All-American High School Service Team. I'm sorry I missed you, but I'd be honored to meet with you whenever you're available. I'm a writer, and writing's what I do best, but no matter how hard I try, black-and-white words and stark, unfeeling type can't convey exactly what's running through my mind. I'm imagining the kind of world where I can write something like this and send it out, and there's a possibility, albeit slim, that you'll see it and think about it. I'm imagining a world where a teenager can make a difference. I'm imagining a world that's completely interconnected. But there's no point in imagining, because it's a world that we already have.

Thank you so much for your time, and also for those that read these letters, too, who filter through each and every one to decide which ones are fit for you to look at. And even if this doesn't reach you, I hope you know that you're an inspiration to me, to the U.S., and to the world.

All the best to you and your family, because it's most definitely earned. Although I don't know politics, I do know that all of you are fantastic human beings. Actually, I'd love to involve Sasha and Malia in We Care Act, as well, not only because I believe they'd enjoy it (maybe) and learn something (hopefully) but because of what an experience that would be for both us and them. And, regardless of the future, you will always be one of my role models.

Sincerely,

Grace Li