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I was one of the Allies fortunate enough to be selected to hear Michelle Obama speak at Comerica Theater Feb. 12. I have been a longtime follower of the former first lady, but the more intimate parts of her origins I was unfamiliar with; fortunately, this event illuminated her background to me, as well as her next chapter post-White House.
When asked by the ASU Lodestar Center for my thoughts about the event, I was quoted as saying, “I can't explain how excited I am to be in the presence of this woman. Michelle Obama, by being an educated, black woman from a working-class family, has revolutionized the role of first lady simply by being herself."
My feelings regarding this statement were along the lines of how identity plays into personal politics and personal achievements. Being the first is never easy, but being the first on a national level such as an American first lady is nothing short of borderline impossible.
Michelle spoke candidly about her experience in the media as a target of harassment, smear campaigns and blatant lies used to discredit her and her husband. Through it all, she handled herself with grace and dignity not unlike Jackie Kennedy, but with her own sense of grounded-ness and personality that is uniquely modern. She relates her entire experience pre-fame, from growing up working-class on the South Side of Chicago, to being an Ivy League undergrad/law graduate. Then, the death of her father/best friend that made her turn her life away from corporate America to public service, to her initial meeting and subsequent relationship with the man who would eventually become her husband (in addition to the President of the United States). Going deeper into family, Michelle was adamant about being complete as a whole person before choosing a mate and bringing children into one’s life, an example set by her and Barack over the years to both the nation and her daughters.
She talks candidly about the challenges and triumphs of parenting, particularly girls (but touches on the subject of sons as well), giving anecdotal advice from her own experiences from Malia and Sasha. She contrasts her style of parenting to that of her own mother, Marian Robinson, whose own down-to-earth personality has left a definite mark on Michelle as both a mother and a woman. Closing out the show, Michelle remarks that her next chapter is the most exciting and how the movement of “becoming” is about more than titles, circumstances and words. It is ultimately a call to action to be one’s best self, however your journey may unfold.
With that being said, #IAmBecoming a better advocate for myself, the people I love and the causes I champion.
Sean Mayer is part of Public Allies' Class 13. He was placed at Homeless ID Project. Public Allies Arizona is a 10-month apprenticeship program designed to develop the next generation of civic leaders.