Edit desk: Name a more iconic first lady. I’ll wait.

Sydney O'Tapi

Sydney O’Tapi

Michelle Obama confidently walked on stage in Manchester, New Hampshire. “Clinton Kaine” signs hovered in the distance. Armed with eloquence and allure, she stepped to the podium. Her determination radiated through the microphone, and her gestures were strong enough to slice through the patriarchy itself.

Her voice echoed in a room where “women together” banners hung high from the ceiling.

At this event Oct. 13 in New Hampshire, first lady Obama discussed the last stretch of her government-wide initiative, Let Girls Learn. This initiative helps girls around the world attend school and stay in school by calling on countries across the globe to educate and empower their female citizens.

Ironically, Obama closes this initiative as the world stands in shock of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, after tapes of the businessman glorifying sexual assault went viral. Trump apologized by reducing his abusive and predatory language to “locker room talk” during the second presidential debate.

In the light of this event, Obama used the power of her words to denounce Trump and to uplift women once again.

“This is not something we can ignore,” she said. “It’s not something we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season because this was not just a lewd conversation, this wasn’t just locker room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexual predatory behavior.”

It was in this moment I realized the unwavering strength of Obama and the foundation she has set in just eight years. She has set the bar as one of the greatest first ladies in United States history, and she has quickly become the voice of reason and a guiding light in the darkness of this election.

When Michelle Obama became first lady in 2008, she wasn’t just picking out the White House china and adding J. Crew clothes to her wardrobe. She continued her drive to serve the community that she started in Chicago by holding various roles in her community. Obama made it a priority to help any group that needed her help, and she began this as first lady in 2010 when she launched Let’s Move. This initiative helped to tackle childhood obesity by urging kids to get active and eat healthier. She made several revisions to the school meal standards in the National School Lunch Program so meals have more whole grains, vegetables and fruits.

She also led the Healthy Food Financing Initiative that allowed farmer’s markets to accept WIC, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Double Dollar and senior benefits program so that healthy food is not unattainable for those with limited incomes. She created the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge and the Kids’ “State Dinner” to promote a generation of healthier children in a time when childhood obesity is becoming a national epidemic with 18 percent of the child population, in comparison to 7 percent in 1980.

In 2011, she began Joining Forces with Jill Biden, an initiative calling all Americans to rally behind service members, veterans and their families to support them through education, wellness and employment opportunities while working hand in hand with the public and private sector. More than half a million veterans and spouses have been hired and trained since the launch of the program, and over 60,000 commitments have been made by the private sector to hire and train veterans and military spouses. Companies such as Amazon committed to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses to combat the veteran unemployment rate that is continuing to decrease.

In the midst of her second term, Michelle Obama launched the Reach Higher initiative in 2014 to rally young people to pursue post-high school education at a community college, a professional training program or a four-year university. Reach Higher aims to expose students to career and college opportunities and also help students understand the financial aid available for them.

Whether it be women, young people, children or veterans, Obama has worked relentlessly to serve the American people in the same way she served the Chicago community for over a decade before she took to office. She has used her platform to take charge of  issues that matter to her and so many Americans.

She rivals other first ladies with her intellect, poise and impressive academic background. She taught us at the Democratic National Convention that “when they go low, we go high.” She warmed our hearts with carpool karaoke. She motivated us with her perfectly sculpted arms, and she left us in awe of her stunning wardrobe. The Harvard-educated lawyer, writer and mother is a role model for all ages.

In 2015, she started Let Girls Learn. And in 2016, she leaves us. Michelle Obama’s legacy of grace, intelligence and strength will live on for years to come.


Sydney O’Tapi, ’18, is an associate lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected].

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