In exchange for her full support of his decision to run for President, Barack Obama agreed to quit his occasional smoking habit completely. As a Princeton and Harvard-educated attorney, she has juggled her own demanding career with marriage to an ambitious visionary who by her own admission will take risks for the right rewards. She was a force in Barack’s momentum toward victory. Along the way, she commits herself fully to the position of a lifetime: as mother to the couple’s two children, daughters Malia Ann and Sasha. She will be the first African American First Lady of the United States, and the third First Lady with a postgraduate degree. Michelle Obama is a combination of intellectual acuity and chic grace.
She was born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, January 17, 1964 on the South Side of Chicago. She grew up on Euclid Avenue with older brother Craig, who is currently the men’s basketball coach at Oregon State University. Her close-knit family included father Fraser Robinson III, a water plant employee and a Democratic precinct captain, and mother Marian Shields Robinson, a secretary. Michelle and Craig were advanced students who skipped the second grade. Michelle remained on the honor roll throughout high school, and was student council treasurer. In 1981, with an acceptance letter from Princeton University, she graduated as salutatorian. At Princeton, she majored in sociology and African American studies. Her senior thesis reflects a young woman contemplating her role in society as a black woman. In 1985, she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts.
Just three years later, she completed her Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School, where she strongly advocated for the hiring of minority professors. She met Barack Obama when he was a summer law associate and she was assigned as his professional mentor. Although she initially declined his requests for dates, she says he impressed her at a community organization meeting. They were engaged in 1991, and married in October 1992. Their first daughter, Malia Ann, came six years later, and their youngest, Natasha or “Sasha,” was born in 2001.
Shortly after Barack announced his presidential candidacy, Michelle began official work on his behalf. Although she established an all-female staff of aides to assist her with the intensified responsibilities of her political role, she wrote her own speeches and delivered them without notes. Her schedule of appearances in support of her husband’s campaign was rigorous, and in February of 2008, she attended 33 events in a little more than a week.
Still, she placed motherhood first. She limited her political travel to two days a week and agreed to overnight stays only if Malia and Sasha could join her. Like Barack, Michelle quickly proved herself to be an exhilarating public speaker. She frequently addressed race and education by using motherhood as common ground. On August 25, she delivered the keynote address of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. In her remarks, she emphasized her working class background, and her family’s success as resulting from generations of hard work; the American Dream realized. She affirmed her patriotism, and her hopes for children, the nation’s as well as her own. After her speech, her daughters joined her onstage.
Since the election, the Obamas have received parenting advice from former First Ladies and mothers Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Rosalyn Carter about raising children in the public eye and at the White House. In the challenging transition, the girls have every element of support, including their maternal grandmother, Marian, who will reside in the White House to help care for them.
—by Cesca Janece Waterfield