I first met Michelle Obama on January 20, 2009. Of course, it was a one-sided meeting. She was sitting in front of the United States Capitol Building, and I was sitting in a train station bar, three hours — and two states — away. But my location didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the moment. It didn’t diminish the honor I felt in that moment, and whether I was in Washington or not didn’t matter. I was witnessing history. I was thankful to be a part of history, and I was proud that, someday, I would be able to tell my children this was a part of my history.
This was the election of my generation.
Ironically, I didn’t pay Michelle much mind. Sure, she was going to be our first lady, but on that day — in that beautiful and hopeful the moment — all eyes (including mine) were on Barack Obama, our 44th president and our first black president.
But now, as the Obamas prepare to depart from the White House, my eyes are on her.
I cannot take my eyes off of her.
Make no mistake: Over the course of the last eight years President Barack Obama has impressed me. He has earned my appreciation and respect and I proudly call him my president, but it was First Lady Michelle Obama who truly captivated me, who continues to fascinate me, and who — with grace, dignity, strength, and poise — inspires me.
It was First Lady Michelle Obama who won my heart.
Of course, what can I possibly say about the first lady that hasn’t already been said? How can I adequately sum up Michelle Obama’s life and her career? And the truth is I can’t. Words like “great” and “amazing” seem insignificant and “thank you” feels trite and trivial — meager phrase for the woman she was.
For the woman she continues to be.
Because Michelle Obama was more than a photo-op first lady. She was more than a “look what she’s wearing” first lady, and more than “Barack’s wife.” She wasn’t just a pretty face standing on the South Lawn. She was a first lady who fought for equal rights, children’s rights, and women’s rights. Who became a staunch advocate for physical and mental health. Who created the Let’s Move! program, the school lunch program, and the MyPlate program. And she did all of this while raising two children. While being America’s “mom-in-chief.”
First Lady Michelle Obama showed us grace in the face of adversity. She displayed unparalleled strength in tough times. She always carried herself with poise and class, even when she stood amongst the classless, when she faced ignorance and ineptitude and outright hate. And Michelle Obama reminded us the power of empathy and compassion.
Of course, not everyone feels this way. Some have questioned her patriotism. Others have held her “guilty by association,” which is to say many dislike Mrs. Obama because they dislike President Obama, due to his policies and politics and his party’s line. And some loathe the Obamas because of the color of their skin. But Michelle Obama has risen above the hatred, bitterness, anger, and contempt by taking the road less traveled.
“When they go low, we go high.”
So thank you, First Lady Michelle Obama, for your hard work and humanity. For continually fighting for equality, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and human rights.
Thank you for being a powerful woman, an outspoken woman, and a seemingly fearless woman. For being the role model young women like me desperately wanted. The role model we so desperately needed.
Thank you for reminding women everywhere that strength and sensitivity can coexist. That we can be both vulnerable and assertive. We can be badass, bold, brave, and beautiful.
Thank you for leading by example. For reminding us that there is — that there can be — goodness and love in all people. That we should have empathy and compassion for all people.
And thank you Michelle (can I call you Michelle?) for your sharp wit, your sense of humor, your shameless love of sleeveless shirts, and for changing not only our country but the world in a way few of us ever could: selflessly, honestly, tirelessly, and with dignity and candor.
With love, kindness, and unwavering respect.
Because, killer biceps aside, that is the Michelle Obama I will remember. That is the first lady I will remember, and I assure you that, if your own words are true — “success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives” — you have been successful because you have changed lives. You have made a difference in millions of lives. We will miss the hell out of you.