First Lady Michelle Obama gave a commencement speech at Tuskegee University in Alabama last Saturday. It’s a powerful 25-minute speech packed with food for thought that’s received mixed praise and criticism from the media.
Obama addresses topics like racial discrimination, black achievement in America, gender stereotypes, motherhood and staying true to one’s self in her commencement speech.
She also shares stories of criticism she’s faced in her role as the first black woman to serve as First Lady of the United States, as well as with the parenting, career and political choices she’s made.
“Back when my husband first started campaigning for President, folks had all sorts of questions of me: What kind of First Lady would I be? What kinds of issues would I take on? And the truth is, those same questions would have been posed to any candidate’s spouse. That just the way the process works. But, as potentially the first African American First Lady, I was the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or even emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?”
The first time she made a magazine cover, it was a satirical cartoon of her with a huge afro holding a machine gun. Obama recalls how much that stung to be portrayed in that manner.
She mentions “sleepless nights” when Barack Obama first started campaigning for the Presidency, worrying about what others thought about her, if she might hurt her husband’s campaign or fearing what her daughters would feel if they knew the hateful and critical things others said about their mom.
The First Lady goes on to explain that she eventually realized that she couldn’t let others define her as a mom and a woman. “I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself—the rest would work itself out.” She learned to block everything out and focus on her truth by asking the following questions: Who am I? What do I care about?
The answers to those questions, she remarks, define her. She is “first and foremost” a mom.
“Look, I love our daughters more than anything in the world, more than life itself. And while that may not be the first thing that some folks want to hear from an Ivy-league educated lawyer, it is truly who I am. So for me, being Mom-in-Chief is, and always will be, job number one.”
For Obama, next come the obligations she feels as First Lady to make the biggest impact possible with her political platform. Criticized for her choices not being “bold enough”, the First Lady defends her decisions to focus on helping families raise healthier kids, honoring military families and inspiring youth to stay in school and attend college. They are her choices, and she tackles what feels most authentic and true to herself.
The First Lady gives helpful advice in her commencement speech that any mother can use.
“At the end of the day, by staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values—and follow my own moral compass—then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”
The First Lady’s speech is well worth a listen in its entirety. Take a listen and ask yourself the following questions as a parent: Who am I? What do I care about? What inspires me? How do I want to give back?