The new documentary, “Becoming,” about former first lady Michelle Obama reminds me of something she said in an interview shortly before Barack Obama left office. They asked her what was the first thing she wanted to do when she left office. Her reply was, “Drive around with windows open.”
I thought that one quote encapsulated the constant stress and pressure of being constantly in the spotlight as one of the most famous and public women in the world. This made me wonder about how she got there. You often hear of people saying, I’d like to be president someday. But few aspire to the position of the first lady.
Michelle Robinson was exposed to a life in politics from a very young age. Her father, Fraser Robinson III, besides being a city employee, was also the Captain of his Democratic Precinct. She, along with her father, mother, Marian, and brother, Craig, grew up in the South Shore area of Chicago. Reading and education were a very important part of her youth, as shown by her brother’s skipping second grade, and her joining a gifted class by the sixth grade.
In high school, she continued her academic excellence by making the honor roll four years in a row, becoming a member of the National Honor Society, and graduating as salutatorian in 1981. She went on to Princeton, where she majored in sociology and graduated cum laude with a BA in 1985. From there, she went on to Harvard Law school, where she got a Juris Doctor. This makes her the third first lady with a post-graduate degree, along with Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.
While working at the law firm of Sidley Austin, she met Barack Obama and became his mentor. They soon became friends, and were married in October 1992 and have since had two daughters, Malia Ann and Natasha.
Her political career began well before becoming the first lady. It actually started after she left the law firm and worked in the office of the Mayor of Chicago and the Office of Planning and Development. Following this, she worked for four years as Executive Director for Public Allies in Chicago, where she set new records as a fundraiser for the non-profit organization. Next, she was an Associate Dean at the University of Chicago, followed by several positions at the University of Chicago Hospitals until she took a leave of absence to concentrate on her husband’s presidential campaign.
Although she mentored her husband early in their career at the law firm, she wasn’t as excited about being on the campaign trail early in his political move. According to an August 2008 article in the New York Times, when asked in 2000, if there was anything she liked about campaigning, she said that visiting so many homes gave her some fresh decorating ideas.
In May 2007, once her husband had officially declared he was running, she began cutting back on her own career to focus on the campaign. Early in the campaign, she would not travel away from home overnight without her daughters, but in February 2008, she attended thirty-three events in three days. According to an interview she gave to Vogue magazine, she writes her own speeches and speaks without notes.
In the early days of the new presidency, she accompanied her husband on many events, both official and informal. She stated, however, that she wanted to remain with her family as much as possible. It became a major focus of her tenure to balance her desire to remain dedicated to her family with the arduous and time-consuming task of being First Lady of the United States.
With her being placed in such lists as “25 of the World’s Most Inspiring Women”, and “10 of the World’s Best Dressed People”, they have likened her high profile style to that of Jacqueline Kennedy. However, when asked about political spouses she admires, she has quoted as having Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton at the top of that list. With the Obama Presidency in the history books, America has witnessed one of the classiest first ladies in history.