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Kidnapped girls move Michelle Obama

She said their plight in Nigeria underscored the risks that come with pursuing an education.

A woman speaks during a rally in Abuja, Nigeria, calling on the government to rescue the schoolgirls who were kidnapped from a school on April 15.
A woman speaks during a rally in Abuja, Nigeria, calling on the government to rescue the schoolgirls who were kidnapped from a school on April 15.Read moreSUNDAY ALAMBA / Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Michelle Obama on Saturday decried the kidnapping of scores of Nigerian schoolgirls who have been missing for nearly a month and used their plight to speak out for the rights of girls everywhere to get an education.

Delivering the weekly presidential radio and Internet address on the eve of the U.S. holiday honoring mothers, Obama, a mother of two, said that, like millions of people around the world, she and President Obama were outraged and heartbroken over the April 15 abduction of nearly 300 girls from a dormitory.

She asked the nation to pray for their safe return and stressed the importance of education.

"In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters," Obama said in the five-minute address, referring to Malia, 15, and Sasha, 12. "We see their hopes, their dreams, and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now."

She said what happened more than three weeks ago in Nigeria was not an isolated incident, but "a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives to pursue their ambitions."

On Saturday in northeastern Nigeria, Islamic extremists blew up a bridge, killed an unknown number of people, and abducted the wife and two children of a retired police officer.

In her address, Obama mentioned Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who survived a gunshot to the head as she traveled to school in 2012. Yousafzai has become an outspoken advocate for the rights of all girls to get an education.

More than 65 million girls worldwide do not attend school, even though educated women earn more money, have healthier families, and provide a boost to their countries' economies, the first lady noted.

"So education is truly a girl's best chance for a bright future, not just for herself, but for her family and her nation," Obama said.

She expressed hope that events in Nigeria would inspire boys and girls across the United States to take getting an education seriously.

"I hope that any young people in America who take school for granted, any young people who are slacking off or thinking of dropping out, I hope they will learn the story of these girls and recommit themselves to their education," she said.

Obama recently launched a domestic initiative called "Reach Higher" to encourage young people to pursue education after high school.

She asked the nation to pray for the Nigerian girls' safe return.

"This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education - grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls," she said. "Let us hold their families in our hearts during this very difficult time, and let us show just a fraction of their courage in fighting to give every girl on this planet the education that is her birthright."

The kidnapped girls and their thirst for learning were also mentioned in a commencement speech the first lady delivered Saturday at Dillard University in New Orleans.

The Nigerian government's inability to find the girls, who were abducted by the Boko Haram organization, has sparked worldwide outrage, including protests and a social-media campaign. The U.S. and other countries have sent military and other experts to assist the government's search effort. President Obama has said the U.S. will do everything it can to help Nigerian authorities find them.