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First Lady Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is a lawyer, writer, and the wife of the 44th President, Barack Obama. She is the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Through her four main initiatives, she became a role model for women and an advocate for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education, and international adolescent girls education.
Each of us also comes here tonight,” Michelle Obama told the Democratic National Convention in 2008, “by way of our own improbable journey” and “driven by a simple belief that . . . we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.” Michelle Obama’s journey began in the South Side of Chicago, where Fraser and Marian Robinson instilled in their daughter a heartfelt commitment to family, hard work, and education.
Her father was a pump operator for the Chicago Water Department, while her mother stayed at home to care for Michelle and her older brother Craig. As she watched her father refuse to give in to multiple sclerosis, use two canes to get to his job, and save money to send her to college, she learned that “the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them.”
Michelle earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School. In 1988, she returned to Chicago to join the firm of Sidley Austin. It was there that she met Barack Obama, a summer associate she was assigned to advise. They were married in 1992.
By that time Michelle had turned her energies to public service. She was assistant commissioner of planning and development in Chicago’s City Hall before becoming the founding executive director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program that prepares young people for public service. In 1996, she joined the University of Chicago as associate dean of student services, where she developed the university’s first community service program. In 2002, she went to work for the University of Chicago Medical Center, where in 2005 she became the vice president of community and external affairs. During these years the Obamas’ daughters Malia and Sasha were born.
As first lady, Michelle Obama initiated Let’s Move! a program aiming to end childhood obesity within a generation. Through it, elected officials, business leaders, educators, parents, and faith leaders worked together to provide more nutritious food in schools, bring healthy and affordable food into underserved communities, plant vegetable gardens across America, and provide new opportunities for kids to be more active. Each year local schoolchildren helped plant and harvest the garden she started on the White House South Lawn. Its vegetables and fruits were served at the White House and donated to soup kitchens and food banks.
During Barack Obama’s second term Michelle spearheaded the Reach Higher Initiative to help students understand job opportunities and the education and skills they need for those jobs. She encouraged young people to continue their education past high school in technical schools and community colleges as well as at colleges and universities. Worldwide, she championed the education of girls and women. In a commencement address at the City College of New York she told graduates, “Never view your challenges as obstacles.” It is a lesson she has embodied all her life. Throughout her time in the White House Mrs. Obama worked to support veterans and military families. She also focused her energies on what she calls her most important role: MominChief to her daughters, who grew into accomplished young women during their eight years in the White House.
The Presidential biographies on WhiteHouse.gov are from “The Presidents of the United States of America,” by Frank Freidel and Hugh Sidey.
Learn more about Michelle Obama’s spouse, Barack Obama.