Michelle Obama is the first African-American First Lady of the United States of America.
First lady, lawyer, Chicago city administrator, community outreach worker and wife of U.S. President Barack Obama. Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama was born January 17, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois.
Michelle was raised on Chicago’s South Side in a one-bedroom apartment. Her father, Frasier Robinson, was a city pump operator and a Democratic precinct captain. Her mother, Marian, was a Spiegel’s secretary who later stayed home to raise Michelle and her older brother, Craig. The family has been described as a close-knit one that shared family meals, read and played games together.
Craig and Michelle, 16 months apart in age, were often mistaken for twins. The siblings also shared close quarters—they slept in the living room with a makeshift sheet serving as their room divider. Both children were raised with an emphasis on education. The brother and sister learned to read at home by the age of four, and both skipped second grade.
By sixth grade, Michelle was attending gifted classes, where she learned French and took accelerated courses. She then went on to attend the city’s first magnet high school for gifted children where, among other activities, she served as the student government treasurer. “Without being immodest, we were always smart, we were always driven and we were always encouraged to do the best you can do, not just what’s necessary,” her brother Craig, has said. “And when it came to going to schools, we all wanted to go to the best schools we could.”
Michelle graduated in 1981 from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago’s West Loop as class salutatorian. After high school, she followed her brother to Princeton University, graduating cum laude in 1985 with a B.A. in Sociology. She went on to earn a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1988, where she took part in demonstrations demanding more minority students and professors.
Following law school, Michelle worked as an associate in the Chicago branch of the law firm Sidley Austin in the area of marketing and intellectual property. There in 1989, she met her future husband, Barack Obama, a summer intern whom she was assigned as an adviser. “I went to Harvard and he went to Harvard, and the firm thought, ‘Oh, we’ll hook these two people up,'” Michelle said. “So, you know, there was a little intrigue, but I must say after about a month, Barack…asked me out, and I thought no way. This is completely tacky.” Initially, she refused to date Obama, believing that their work relationship would make the romance improper. Eventually she relented, and the couple soon fell in love.
After two years of dating, Barack proposed. “We were at a restaurant having dinner to celebrate the fact that he had finished the bar,” Michelle remembers. “Then the waiter came over with the dessert and a tray. And there was the ring. And I was completely shocked.” The couple married at Trinity United Church of Christ on October 18, 1992.
Michelle soon left her job to launch a career in public service, serving as an assistant to Mayor Daley and then as the assistant commissioner of planning and development for the City of Chicago.
In 1993, she became Executive Director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, a non-profit leadership-training program that helped young adults develop skills for future careers in the public sector.
Michelle joined the University of Chicago in 1996 as associate dean of student services, developing the University’s first community service program. She then worked for the University of Chicago Hospitals beginning in 2002, as executive director of community relations and external affairs.
In May 2005, she was appointed vice president of community relations and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she continues to work part-time. She also manages the business diversity program and sits on six boards, including the prestigious Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.
Michelle Obama first caught the eye of a national audience at her husband’s side when he delivered a high-profile speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois that November.
In 2007, she scaled back her own professional work to attend to family and campaign obligations during Barack’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Michelle says she’s made a “commitment to be away overnight only once a week — to campaign only two days a week and be home by the end of the second day” for their two daughters, Malia (born 1999) and Natasha (2001). It has been reported that the Obama family has no nanny, and that the children are left with their grandmother, Marian, while their parents campaign. “I’ve never participated at this level in any of his campaigns,” Michelle says. “I have usually chosen to just appear when necessary.”
Since her husband’s political role pushed the Obama family into the spotlight, Michelle has been publicly recognized for her steely, no-nonsense campaign style as well as her sense of fashion. In May of 2006, Michelle was featured in Essence magazine as one of “25 of the World’s Most Inspiring Women.” Then in September 2007, Michelle was listed in 02138 magazine as number 58 in “The Harvard 100,” a list of the most influential alumni for the year. She has also made the Vanity Fair best-dressed list two years in a row, as well as People Magazine’s 2008 best-dressed list.
As the 44th First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama has focused her attention on issues such as the support of military families, helping working women balance career and family, and encouraging national service. During the first year of the Obama presidency, Michelle and her husband have volunteered at homeless shelters and soup kitchens in the Washington, D.C. area. Michelle also has made appearances at public schools, stressing the importance of education and volunteer work.
Ever conscious of her family’s diet and health, Michelle Obama has supported the organic food movement, instructing the White House kitchens to prepare organic food for guests and her family. In March 2009, Michelle worked with 23 fifth graders from a local school in Washington, D.C., to plant a 1,100 square foot garden of fresh vegetables and install bee hives on the South Lawn of the White House. Periodically, throughout the summer, the same students returned to harvest various foods and learned to cook fresh-grown organic vegetables. In 2010, Michelle has put efforts to fight childhood obesity near the top of her agenda.
Both Michelle and Barack Obama have stated their personal priority is their two daughters, Malia and Sasha. The parents realize that the move from Chicago to Washington, D.C., would be a major adjustment for any family. Living in the White House, having Secret Service protection, and always being in the wake of their parents’ public lives has dramatically transformed their lives. Both parents try to make their daughters’ lives as “normal” as possible with set times for study, bed, and getting up. “My first priority will always be to make sure that our girls are healthy and grounded,” Michelle said. “Then I want to help other families get the support they need, not just to survive, but to thrive.”
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