Michelle Obama, Former First Lady of the United States
Michelle Obama talks about growing up on Chicago's South Side, graduating cum laude from Princeton University, quitting her job at a law firm, and becoming the first African American First Lady of the United States.
Former First Lady of the United States
Growing up, her family instilled in her the value of education, which led her to graduate cum laude from Princeton University, where she studied sociology and African-American studies, before attending Harvard Law School.
Michelle Obama grew up in the South Side of Chicago with her parents and older brother. From an early age, her family instilled in her the value of education, which led her to graduate cum laude from Princeton University, where she studied sociology and African-American studies, before attending Harvard Law School.
Her passion of helping others in neighborhoods similar to the one from which she came became her chief priority. Eventually, she quit her job at Chicago's Sidley & Austin law firm where she met her future husband, Barack Obama, in order to take on careers in which she could lift people up and serve her community.
By 1996, four years after their wedding, Obama became the Associate Dean of Student Services for the University of Chicago and Vice President of Community and External Affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she developed the college's first community service program and helped volunteerism increase.
In 2008, her husband, Senator Barack Obama, was elected the 44th President of the United States of America, making her the first African-American First Lady. As the First Lady, Obama made sure to prioritize her role as a mother to her two daughters, Malia and Sasha. Aside from being a hands-on mother, she continued her work of helping others by launching various initiatives to help the world's youth. In 2010, following her mission to address the challenge of childhood obesity with Let’s Move!, Obama launched Reach Higher, a movement in 2014 to encourage young Americans to fulfill their highest educational goals. Obama, alongside her husband, launched the Let Girls Learn initiative to help keep girls around the world gain access to education.
- I realized that as First Lady you can bring so much attention and marshal so many resources to really help on whatever issue that you're focused on so I have always taken that responsibility very seriously. I'm a Chicago native, I grew up on the South Side in a really small apartment with my parents and my older brother Craig. My dad worked as a pump operator at the city water plant. My mom stayed at home and so we didn't have a lot of money but my brother and I were blessed with something far more valuable because our parents truly gave us unconditional love and encouragement to go places they never imagined for themselves. Neither of them had a college degree but they made it very clear that they expected me and my brother to get the best education possible so school was always, always the center of our lives. So I made it my point to give it 120%. The early part of my life was focused on sort of reaching those traditional markers of success. I focused on getting the right degrees, going to the right schools. So by the time I was in my mid 20s and working at a firm I had everything that I was told I should want but I could still feel that there was something missing. I started to ask myself some more important questions like what do I really care about and how do I give something back? I wanted to be in a position to help folks from neighborhoods like mine, especially young people, have the opportunities that I had. So I quit my job at the law firm and found myself working in careers where I could spend my time lifting up the kinds of communities that I grew up in. The inauguration was one of the coldest Januaries that I've spent here in Washington D.C. It was freezing. I really remember what it felt like to walk out the steps of the Capitol and stand there with Barack as he took the oath of office and look out at what felt like endless amounts of people standing as far as the eye could see from every race, age, background you could imagine would come from every corner of the country just to witness this historic moment. It was probably one of the most profoundly moving experiences that I've ever had. And to have our girls there with us, those two little bitty girls standing on that stage is a moment I'll never forget. This role, it's a real gift because it brings with it this big bright spotlight and that's why I've worked hard to choose work on issues that I care deeply about, that I feel really defines me or that I'm connected with, that will really make a difference in peoples' lives. We've really worked to raise the profile of this issue. I've had the opportunity to travel the world and everywhere I go I meet these amazing young women and they impress me with how bright and how hungry they are no matter what their circumstances are, they'd risk their lives for an education. And they have so much promise that we can't afford to waste. I see myself in these girls so I want Let Girls Learn to be part of my life's work for decades to come because for me this issue is personal. I hoped that I've used my big spotlight to move the needle on a whole range of issues but I feel honored and blessed to have served this role for my country.
- I came in here saying that the most important job I could have was being mom-in-chief. Got some grief about that, but it's still true. No matter what else is happening in my life, and this isn't just because I'm the first lady, but it's been my priority ever since I gave birth to these two girls, was making sure that I was doing everything in my power to raise them to be whole human beings. I want to make sure that I'm always there for them, that I give them the kind of unconditional support and love that my parents gave me. Also be there to give them that tough love. We don't believe in coddling our kids, but showing them important traits like accountability and honesty and all that. But we want to give them all of those tools that they need to grow into happy, healthy, curious, and independent women. So, they are my priority, hands down.
- I remember we'd spend a lot of time as a family, gathering around our little kitchen table. We'd laugh, and talk, and playing board games. We come from a big family, big extended family, who lived near by: aunts, uncles, grandparents. We'd get together as a family all the time, talking, laughing, eating. My grandfather was a great barbecue griller. We were a big family, but we were really family people. I grew up surrounded by love, which is really all that any kid could ever ask for. So, I feel pretty blessed.