First Lady of the United States (2009–17) and Lawyer
Michelle Obama is one of the great speechmakers of our time. In her charisma and supreme command of an audience, she is every bit the equal of her husband, former United States president Barack Obama. In her eight years as First Lady, she used her position to champion causes from childhood obesity to LGBTQ rights. Raised on Chicago’s South Side, Obama often speaks about where she comes from, and where she is going. As a teenager, she followed her older brother to Princeton University (neither of her parents graduated from college) and then went on to Harvard Law School. She met Barack as a young lawyer at the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she was his mentor.
In 2016, Obama addressed the Democratic National Convention, this time to voice her support for Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party candidate in the upcoming presidential election. In an emotional speech, she looks back on her experience as a parent in the White House. She saw herself, she explains, as a role model for both her own daughters and for children all over the country. In this way, she draws a link between parenthood – particularly motherhood – and politics; a powerful (and savvy, given the context) endorsement of leadership positions for women. She begins by recalling the first day she saw Sasha and Malia, then seven and ten, in ‘those black SUVs with all those big men with guns’. ‘At that moment,’ she says, ‘I realized that our time in the White House would form the foundation for who they would become, and how well we managed this experience could truly make or break them.’
Speech at the Democratic National Convention 2016
That is what Barack and I think about every day as we try to guide and protect our girls through the challenges of this unusual life in the spotlight — how we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel, or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level — no, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.
With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models. And let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as President and First Lady, because we know that our words and actions matter not just to our girls, but to children across this country — kids who tell us, “I saw you on TV, I wrote a report on you for school.” Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered, “Is my hair like yours?”
… I want a President who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters — a President who truly believes in the vision that our founders put forth all those years ago: That we are all created equal, each a beloved part of the great American story. And when crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other — no, we listen to each other. We lean on each other. Because we are always stronger together.
And I am here tonight because I know that that is the kind of president that Hillary Clinton will be. And that’s why, in this election, I’m with her. You see, Hillary understands that the President is about one thing and one thing only — it’s about leaving something better for our kids. That’s how we’ve always moved this country forward — by all of us coming together on behalf of our children — folks who volunteer to coach that team, to teach that Sunday school class because they know it takes a village. Heroes of every color and creed who wear the uniform and risk their lives to keep passing down those blessings of liberty.
… That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters — and all our sons and daughters — now take for granted that a woman can be President of the United States.
… our motto is, when they go low, we go high.