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Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager share how their moms were their biggest advocates

In honor of International Day of the Girl, Hoda and Jenna revealed what they’ve learned from their mothers and what they teach their daughters.
/ Source: TODAY

International Day of the Girl gave Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager a chance to speak to some of the women of tomorrow right here on the plaza Monday. But it wasn’t simply an interview — it was a true conversation.

Not only did they ask these rising female leaders about the inspirational and aspirational work they’re doing in the world, Hoda and Jenna also took questions from the girls. And when one 14-year-old guest asked about the unforgettable lessons they learned growing up, it gave them the opportunity to share generations of wisdom.

“You know, I feel like whenever anybody says, ‘Which women inspire you the most?’ most people would say your moms, your aunts, your grandmothers,” Jenna explained. “And that’s because I think, in my case and probably in yours, our mothers are the ones who teach us how to use our voices.”

Jenna’s mother, former first lady Laura Bush, taught her to use her voice for good.

Jenna Bush Hager and and her mother, former first lady Laura Bush, who taught Jenna how to use her voice.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

“My mom taught me that I have a right and a privilege to stand up for people who may not have a platform,” she said. “And my mom is very graceful, she’s a lady, so she does it in a little bit of a different way than I do it. But she says it doesn’t matter as long as we stand up for what’s right.”

Hoda then recalled the most valuable thing her own mother, Sami Kotb, ever taught her.

“My mom’s from Egypt, and she used to always say, ‘You can do it! You can do it!’” she said with a smile. “Like, no matter what I wanted, ‘You can do it!’ She literally looked me in the eye and believed. If I would have said, ‘I want to be an astronaut,’ ’I want to be this...’ she really, 100 percent believed.”

Hoda Kotb and her mother, Sami Kotb, the woman Hoda says always believed in her. Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

And it made all the difference.

“If one person thinks you can, whether it’s your mom, your teacher, whoever it is ... it’s weird,” she said of the effect it can have. “If someone would have told me the odds of having this job all those years ago, it would have been a million to one. It would have been very unlikely. But it ended up happening. Why? Because I had one woman with pompoms who cheered me on.”

Those responses earned applause and sparked another question from a 13-year-old girl, who wanted to know how Hoda and Jenna promote girlhood in their own lives.

“I think one thing we’re both doing right now is raising young girls,” Jenna, who’s the mother of daughters Mila, 8, and Poppy,6, as well son Hal, 2, said. “I think I can speak for both of us on this, because I know this from Hoda, the most important thing about being a woman is that you support other women. That we’re a sisterhood. We have other’s backs.”

And her greatest hope for her daughters is that she's able to impart the same lessons she learned from her mother.

“I think I want to tell my girls how lucky they are and try to do the same thing my mom did for us, and that’s have them use their voices in whatever way they think is appropriate,” she added.

Hoda, too, stressed the importance of sisterhood, and added that when it comes to her daughters, Haley, 4, and Hope, 2, her greatest goal for them is “to be everything they can be.” And the best way to reach that potential might just be in a piece of advice someone once gave her.

‘I never forgot, they said, ‘You are the sum total of the five people you spend the most time with, so choose wisely,”’ Hoda shared. “You are like your circle. If you have someone in your circle who’s nasty, bye-bye! ... If someone is talking behind your back, bye-bye! You don’t need them. You keep your circle tight and know that you are a reflection of the people you choose, because they say you attract what is within.”

And with advice like that, you can’t go wrong.