“The one way to get me to work my hardest was to doubt me,” a powerful declaration from the first African American First Lady of the United States, the wife of Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States, Michelle Obama. Her strong determination to be a successful lawyer, community organizer, university administrator, First Lady, and mother to Sasha and Malia, deems her the ultimate role model, for women of all ages.
Michelle Obama was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson on January 17, 1964 in Chicago Illinois. She was raised in a small home on the South Side of Chicago. Her father, Fraser Robinson, was a pump operator for the city’s purification plant and a Democratic precinct captain. Her mother, Marian Robinson, was a secretary for Spiegel’s, a marketing and catalog company. Later, her mother became a full-time homemaker until Michelle entered high school.
Michelle and her older sibling Craig, were 21 months apart in age and were often mistaken for twins. The siblings shared close quarters, sleeping in the living room with a sheet serving as a room divider. Raised with an emphasis on education, they learned to read at home by age four. Both children skipped the second grade.
By the sixth grade, Michelle joined her school’s gifted program at Bouchet Academy, where she learned French and completed accelerated courses in biology. She went on to attend Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, the city’s first magnet high school for gifted children. Among other activities, she served as the student government treasurer. In 1981, Michelle graduated as class salutatorian.
Following in her brother’s footsteps, Michelle attended Princeton University where she studied sociology and African American studies. She graduated cum laude in 1985 with a B.A. in Sociology. She went on to study law at Harvard Law School, where she took part in demonstrations calling for the enrollment and hiring of more minority students and professors. She earned her J.D. in 1988.
Returning to Chicago, she took a job as a junior associate at Sidley & Austin , where she specialized in intellectual property law. In 1989, while at the firm, she met Barack Obama, who had been hired as a summer intern. Initially, she refused to date Barack, believing that their work relationship would make the romance improper. She eventually relented, however, and the couple soon fell in love. After two years of dating, Barack proposed, and the couple married at Trinity United Church of Christ on October 3, 1992. They later gave birth to two daughters, Malia and Sasha, in 1998 and 2001, respectively.
Michelle became the associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago, where she helped organize the school’s community outreach programs. In 2002 she became the executive director of community and external affairs. Two years later Barack was elected to the U.S. Senate and came to national prominence with a speech he gave on the final night of the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In 2005, she became vice president of community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center.
When her husband announced his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Michelle took a prominent role in his campaign. She took leave from her position at the University of Chicago to devote herself more fully to campaigning while still maintaining time to care for their two young daughters. An affluent speaker, she stumped extensively for her husband during the long Democratic primary race, and in June 2008 Barack became the party’s presumptive nominee. Michelle’s openness on the campaign trail and in interviews, she often humanized her husband by discussing his faults and persuading observers not to “deify him”. She was endeared by many.
Barack eventually won the nomination. On November 4, 2008, Barack was elected the 44th president of the United States and the first African American man appointed as commander-in-chief. He took office on January 20, 2009, and was re-elected in 2012.
As First Lady, Michelle focused her attention on various causes, notably supporting military families, helping working women balance career and family life, ending childhood obesity, and encouraging national service. During the first year of her husband’s presidency, Michelle and Barack volunteered at multiple homeless shelters and soup kitchens in the Washington, D.C. area. She also made appearances at public schools, stressing the importance of education and volunteerism. Born out of her own concerns for her family’s health and nutrition, Michelle supported the organic-food movement, instructing the White House kitchens to prepare organic food for guests and her family.
In March 2009, in an effort to combat childhood obesity, Michelle worked with 23 fifth graders from a local school in Washington D.C. to plant an 1,100-square-foot garden of fresh vegetables and install beehives on the South Lawn of the White House, placing childhood obesity near the top of her agenda. She related her experiences with the project in the book American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America. In 2012, she announced a new fitness program for kids as part of her “Let’s Move” initiative. Partnering with the U.S. Olympic team and other sports organizations, she encouraged young people to try out a new sport or activity.
After her husband’s term ended in 2017, Michelle kept a relatively low public profile. In May 2018, Michelle and Barack Obama announced that they signed a multi-year deal to produce series and films for Netflix. “Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us,” the former First Lady said in a statement.
On November 13, 2018 she released her autobiography, Becoming, which has garnered much success and notoriety. Selling over 2 million copies in both the U.S. and Canada, Michelle has topped the New York Times Bestseller’s List and Amazon’s Bestseller’s List and has broken historical book sales. Describing her deeply personal experience in writing the book, she stated, “I talk about my roots and how a girl from the South Side found her voice. I hope my journey inspires readers to and the courage to become whoever they aspire to be.”
Despite speculation that she would be running for president in 2020, Barack Obama stated during a campaign rally in Nevada that Michelle would not be running for president in 2020. Michelle has previously stated that she has no passion for politics.
Michelle, alongside her family, presently resides in Washington, D.C.
“When they go low, we go high.”
“One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals.”
“I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values – and follow my own moral compass – then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”
“The one way to get me to work my hardest was to doubt me.”
“Find people who will make you better.”
“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.”
“I always tell young girls, surround yourself with goodness. I learned early on how to get the haters out of my life.”
“Do not be afraid to ask for help. Nobody gets through college on their own.”
“Success isn’t about how much money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”
“Success is only meaningful and enjoyable if it feels like your own.”
“There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.”
“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”
“When I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don’t invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.”
“We need a president who will choose to do what’s best for the country, even when it doesn’t personally benefit them.”
Recreate Model: Jasmine Y. Mallory
Recreated Photo: Kimberly Staples, Photographer