Michelle Obama: dignity, grace, hope

By Nathan Baumgartner

Opinion Contributor

For some people, First Ladies of the United States seem to play a negligible role of the politics. They may seem to take care of the children. They may seem unaware of their husband’s position and role in the United States. They may seem to just live their own lives behind the wrought-iron gates surrounding 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, only to come out during state visits and other important functions attended by the President.

And then there’s Michelle Obama. On a lot of levels, Michelle reminds me of a maternal figure. She carries herself with dignity. She carries herself with grace. And she offers a lot of hope. But at the same time, Michelle is her own person, using the power she has as First Lady to enact serious change in the United States. Through her own accord, she relentlessly harnessed any negativity surrounding her to effectively motivate her: she has experienced gender discrimination, racial discrimination, economic discrimination, and countless obstacles potentially blocking her path. From what Michelle herself has described as a “conventional” household, she has become truly unconventional, but in a truly remarkable way: she has campaigned for further egalitarian measures having to do with gender and sexual orientation and economic status, ultimately manifesting in her Let’s Move! Campaign, which is her campaign for the release of Nigerian girls held by Boko Haram, and her support of LGBT rights at the state level (in her case, Illinois) before they became legal nationwide.   

For me, saying that Michelle Obama is one of my role models is like saying the sky is blue: it’s true, but it doesn’t take into account the shades of blue, and the other colors the sky becomes during the sunrise and sunset. It gets the point across in an obvious fashion, but Michelle is more than just a role model. She is a symbol of the United States abroad, and has proven instrumental in bolstering the image of the United States abroad. From what has been described as an “historic low” for the perception of the United States after the Bush administration by statistics gathered by the Pew Research Center, the Obamas have worked to improve perceptions of the United States across many regions of the world.

Perhaps the most important test to Michelle Obama’s willpower came from a surprising location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Over the course of a couple weeks, Malia Obama dominated Belgian and Dutch tabloids for being caught partying and smoking marijuana while at a party in Amsterdam. Instead of publicly scolding Malia, Michelle instead gave a speech regarding female empowerment the next morning. The issue did not seem to affect Michelle, as Malia was engaging in activities legal for her age under Dutch law. For that reason, I think Michelle deserves some serious respect through not expecting Malia to be punished for what she did. She did not address the issue directly in even the subtlest of a context, instead choosing to focus on what mattered to her as well as to her country.

Though it remains obvious (unfortunately) that Michelle will no longer be First Lady of the United States after the inauguration of our next President, Michelle’s sunset seems to be a rich, beautiful and colorful assortment of hues of orange, blue, and purple. Or, perhaps more accurately, shades of rose and gold with hues of Versace.

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