Michelle LaVaughn Robinson and her brother Craig grew up as part of a working class family on the South Side of Chicago. Some of their ancestors were slaves. Her father set an example for hard work. He had multiple sclerosis, but he almost never missed a day of work. Their mother worked hard to take care of the home and family. Both children were raised with an emphasis on education. Their parents taught them to read by the age of 4, and they both skipped second grade. She said, “I was just a typical South Side little black girl. Not a whole lot of money. Going to the circus once a year was a big deal. Getting pizza on Friday was a treat. Summers were long and fun.”
Michelle went to public schools in Chicago. By sixth grade, she began going to classes for gifted children. She went to Chicago’s first magnet high school even though the commute to school took more than an hour. She took advanced placement classes, was a member of the National Honor Society, and was treasurer of the student council. When Michelle graduated in 1981, she was the salutatorian of her class. This means she had the second highest average.
Michelle went to Princeton University. Her senior thesis was “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.” She joined the Third World Center, a group that supported minority students. She helped run their day care center and do tutoring. She studied sociology and African-American studies graduating with honors in 1985.
Next, she went to Harvard Law School where she earned her degree in 1988. She helped low-income people with housing problems while she worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. She is only the third First Lady to earn an advanced college degree.
After graduating from Harvard Law School, she joined a Chicago law firm where she met Barack Obama. The firm asked her to be his adviser when he came there for a summer internship. They were married in 1992. This is how she describes his proposal: “We were at a restaurant having dinner to celebrate the fact that he had finished the bar. Then the waiter came over with the dessert and a tray. And there was the ring. And I was completely shocked.”
Michelle left the law firm to work as an assistant to Chicago Mayor Daley, and then as an assistant commissioner of planning and development for Chicago. In 1993, she became executive director of non-profit program that helped young adults develop skills to be future leaders. In 1996, she took a job as associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago. She set up their first community-service program. In 2002, she became executive director of community relations and external affairs for the University of Chicago Hospitals.
Michelle and Barack Obama are raising their daughters, Malia (born 1998) and Natasha, known as Sasha (born 2001), according to the strong family values that Michelle learned as a child. Michelle’s mother helps take care of the girls when both parents must campaign or be away for political reasons.
Michelle is an excellent campaign speaker who is known for her sense of fashion, her loving care of her family, and her excellent physical condition. As First Lady, Michelle has helped fight childhood obesity with her Let’s Move! program. She and Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of the Vice President, also started Joining Forces to help military service members and their families with employment, education and better health care. Michelle often goes to public schools, to stress the importance of education and volunteer work. With student volunteers, she planted a 1,100-square-foot garden and set up beehives on the South Lawn of the White House. She wrote a book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, about the garden.