But, as potentially the first African American first lady, I was also 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 too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?
Although the circumstances of our lives may seem very disengaged, with me standing here as the First Lady of the United States of America and you just getting through school, I want you to know we have very much in common. For nothing in my life ever would have predicted that I would be standing here as the first African-American First Lady.
And in my own life, in my own small way, I've tried to give back to this country that has given me so much. That's why I left a job at a law firm for a career in public service, working to empower young people to volunteer in their communities. Because I believe that each of us - no matter what our age or background or walk of life - each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation.
Moving [to the White House], whatever stresses would be on my husband and me, we could handle; we are grown-ups. But it wouldn't be until the day that my kids came home and said to me, "I like it here," that I'd feel like I could breathe and know that we're all going to be okay here.
For me, being a mother made me a better professional, because coming home every night to my girls reminded me what I was working for. And being a professional made me a better mother, because by pursuing my dreams, I was modeling for my girls how to pursue their dreams.
The fact is, with every friendship you make, and every bond of trust you establish, you are shaping the image of America projected to the rest of the world. That is so important. So when you study abroad, you're actually helping to make America stronger.
When I'm unhappy with something, people know, because I don't want to hold on to it. I'd rather deal immediately with the stuff that bothers me, so using my network - my girlfriends, my husband, my mom - I talk a lot, I vent.
The work-life balance is a harsh reality for so many women, who are forced every day to make impossible choices. Do they take their kids to the doctor...and risk getting fired? Do they work weekends so they can afford to send their kids to better childcare...even though it means even less time with their families? Do they take another shift at work, so they can pay for piano lessons for their kids...even though it means they have to stop volunteering for the PTA? It just shouldn't be this difficult to raise healthy families.
Cute's good. But cute only lasts for so long, and then it's, 'Who are you as a person?' Look at the heart. Look at the soul. Look at how the guy treats his mother and what he says about women. How he acts with children he doesn't know. And, more important, how does he treat you?
You see, even though back then Barack was a senator and a presidential candidate, to me, he was still the guy who'd picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by through a hole in the passenger side door. He was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table he'd found in a dumpster, and whose only pair of decent shoes was half a size too small.
We learned about gratitude and humility - that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean... and we were taught to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect.
When you're really trying to make serious change, you don't want people to get caught up in emotion because change isn't emotion. Because change isn't emotion. Its real work and organization and strategy.. that's just the truth of it. I mean, you pull people in with inspiration, but then you have to roll up your sleeves and you've got to make sacrifices and you have got to have structure.
The arts and humanities define who we are as a people. That is their power -- to remind us of what we each have to offer, and what we all have in common. To help us understand our history and imagine our future. To give us hope in the moments of struggle and to bring us together when nothing else will.
I look at how my kids view exercise. They have a complete understanding that nutrition and exercise go hand in hand. I didn't think like that when I was a kid. But they have a real consciousness about it that I'd like to think comes from the years of attention we've put into this.
I was blessed throughout my entire career. I had people rooting for me. It started with my parents, but it extended to almost every teacher that I had. Even when I was a young lawyer, there were other women and men in the firm who took me under their wing.
In the 10 cities with the nation's highest obesity rates, the direct costs connected with obesity and obesity-related diseases are roughly $50 million per 100,000 residents. And if these 10 cities just cut their obesity rates down to the national average, all added up they combine to save nearly $500 million in healthcare costs each year.
This year, 1.7 million young people will be participating in Olympic and Paralympic sports in their communities-many of them for the very first time. And that is so important, because sometimes all it takes is that first lesson, or clinic, or class to get a child excited about a new sport. This summer, together with our children, we can support Team USA not just by cheering them on, but by striving to live up to the example they set.
Childhood obesity isn't some simple, discrete issue. There's no one cause we can pinpoint. There's no one program we can fund to make it go away. Rather, it's an issue that touches on every aspect of how we live and how we work.
And that's my message to voters, this isn't about Barack, it's not about person on that ballot -- its about you. And for most of the people we are talking to [blacks], a Democratic ticket is the clear ticket that we should be voting on, regardless of who said what or did this -- that shouldn't even come into the equation.
Now, a good education is about so much more than just learning geometry or memorizing dates in history. All of that is important, but an education is also about exploring new things -- discovering what makes you come alive, and then being your best at whatever you choose
For me, I look at the faces of my kids and I think about the future that is going to await them and whether they're going to not just have the financial resources to be prepared for the challenge, but whether they're going to have the strength and the stamina to live healthier, longer lives so that they can see their kids and grandkids. That's the legacy I hope to see, and it can have nothing to do with me and I'd be perfectly happy.
And I love that even in the toughest moments, when we're all sweating it - when we're worried that the bill won't pass, and it seems like all is lost - Barack never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. Just like his grandmother, he just keeps getting up and moving forward... with patience and wisdom, and courage and grace.
One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. And so when I hear about negative and false attacks, I really don't invest any energy in them, because I know who I am.
One thing I want to clarify - that every service member, veteran, wants us to remember - is that the vast majority of people returning from service come back completely healthy. But when we do come across someone who is struggling. We have to develop a culture of open arms and acceptance so that they feel comfortable saying, "I'm a veteran. And by the way, I need little help." This is something we need to do in this country around mental health as a whole - destigmatizing mental health.
Earlier in my college career, there was no doubt in my mind that as a member of the Black community I was somehow obligated to this community and would utilize all of my present and future resources to benefit this community first and foremost.
When I was little, I wanted to be a mother, because that's who I saw. I saw my mom caring for me. I didn't play doctor. I didn't play lawyer. I didn't have those visions until I was in college, meeting people who were doing those things. That's why we're trying to encourage moms, teachers, fathers, to be that presence in their children's lives, in their communities, because it really makes a difference.
The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation.
My ability to get through my day greatly depends on the relationship that I have with other women...We have to be able to champion other women. We have to root for each other's successes and not delight in one another's failures.
I come here today as a Christian, a person of faith who believes we've all been called to serve our fellow men and women and to honor God's creation. We want our girls to know right from wrong, to always tell the truth, to treat people no matter who they are with dignity and respect, no matter how different they may seem...because we want our girls to know we are all God's children and there's so much more that unites than divides us.