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Profile of Michelle Obama

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Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

© Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Name:

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama

 

Position:

First African American First Lady and wife of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to serve as president
Former vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center

 

Born:

January 17, 1964 in Chicago, Illinois on the city's South Side

 

Education:

Graduated Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago's West Loop in 1981

 

Undergraduate:

Princeton University, B.A. in sociology, minor in African American studies. Graduated 1985.

 

Graduate:

Harvard Law School. Graduated 1988.

Family Background:

Born to Marian and Fraser Robinson, Michelle had two early role models in her parents, whom she proudly identifies as 'working class.' Her father, a city pump operator and Democratic precinct captain, worked and lived with multiple sclerosis; his limp and crutches did not affect his abilities as the family breadwinner. Michelle's mother stayed home with her children until they reached high school. The family lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a brick bungalow. The living room - converted with a divider down the middle - served as Michelle's bedroom.

Childhood & Early Influences:

Michelle and her older brother Craig, now an Ivy League basketball coach at Brown University, grew up hearing the story of their maternal grandfather. A carpenter who was denied union membership due to race, he was shut out of the city's top construction jobs. Yet the children were taught they could succeed despite any prejudices they might encounter over race and color. Both children were bright and skipped second grade. Michelle entered a gifted program in sixth grade. From their parents - who had never attended college - Michelle and her brother learned that achievement and hard work were key.

College & Law School:

Michelle was discouraged from applying to Princeton by high school advisors who felt her scores weren't adequate. Yet she graduated from the college with honors. She was one of very few black students attending Princeton at the time, and the experience made her acutely aware of the issues of race.

When she applied to Harvard Law, she again faced bias as college counselors tried to talk her out of her decision. Despite their doubts, she excelled. Professor David B. Wilkins remembers Michelle as forthright: "She always stated her position clearly and decisively."

Career in Corporate Law:

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Michelle joined the law firm of Sidley Austin as an associate specializing in marketing and intellectual property. In 1988, a summer intern two years older by the name of Barack Obama came to work at the firm, and Michelle was assigned as his mentor. They married in 1992.

In 1991, the death of her father from complications related to MS caused Michelle to re-evaluate her life; she subsequently decided to leave corporate law to work in the public sector.

Career in Public Sector:

Michelle first served as assistant to Chicago mayor Richard M. Daly; later she became assistant commissioner of planning and development.

In 1993, she founded Public Allies Chicago which provided young adults with leadership training for public service careers. As executive director, she headed up a non-profit named by President Bill Clinton as a model AmeriCorps program.

In 1996, she joined the University of Chicago as associate dean of student services, and established its first community service program. In 2002, she was named the University of Chicago Hospitals' executive director of community and external affairs.

Balancing Career, Family, and Politics:

Following her husband's election to the US Senate in November 2004, Michelle was appointed vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center in May 2005. Despite Barack's dual roles in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, Michelle did not consider resigning from her position and and moving to the nation's capitol. Only after Barack announced his presidential campaign did she adjust her work schedule; in May 2007 she cut her hours by 80% to accommodate the needs of the family during his candidacy.

Personal:

Although she resists the labels 'feminist' and 'liberal,' Michelle Obama is widely recognized as outspoken and strong-willed. She has juggled career and family as a working mother, and her positions indicate progressive ideas on the roles of women and men in society.

Michelle and Barack Obama have two daughters, Malia (born 1998) and Sasha (born 2001).

Updated February 9, 2009

 

Sources:

"About Michelle Obama." www.barackobama.com, retrieved 22 February 2008.
Kornblut, Anne E. "Michelle Obama's Career Timeout." Washington Post, 2 May 2007.
Reynolds, Bill. "He's much more than Obama's brother-in-law." Providence Journal, 15 February 2008.
Saulny, Susan. "Michelle Obama Thrives in Campaign Trenches." New York Times, 14 February 2008.
Bennetts, Leslie. "First Lady in Waiting." VanityFair.com, 27 December 2007.
Rossi, Rosalind. "The woman behind Obama."Chicago Sun Times, 22 January 2008.
Springen, Karen. "First Lady in Waiting."Chicago Magazine, October 2004.

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