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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
I want to feel like the things I did made a difference. That's one of the reasons I spend time [greeting people] on rope lines, because I'm always thinking, 'Maybe this interaction, particularly if I'm meeting kids, will change someone's life.' That's how I think about the work I do [as First Lady]. It's a rare spotlight. I want to make sure I don't waste it.
If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.
The biggest obstacle facing girls is education, education, education. There are too many kids who think high school is a pit stop to fame and fortune. I want girls in this country to think education is the coolest, most important thing they could ever do in their lives.
We all grew up in communities with grandmothers who cooked two, three vegetables that you had to eat. There was no ifs, ands or buts about it. But that's because many of our grandparents, they had community gardens; there was the vegetable man that came around. There were many other resources that allowed them to have access. So it's not that people don't know or don't want to do the right thing; they just have to have access to the foods that they know will make their families healthier.
Barack and I were both raised by families who didn't have much in the way of money or material possessions but who had given us something far more valuable - their unconditional love, their unflinching sacrifice, and the chance to go places they had never imagined for themselves.