AMANDA LAFFERTY ’21
On Thursday Nov. 16, former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama starred in a moderated conversation at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center and discussed her lifetime’s worth of triumphs, failures, and positive thinking. Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem Thelma Golden was the moderator of the discussion and posed questions to Obama that addressed her upbringing, her marriage with Barack, the many years she spent as First Lady, and what the future might entail for her, her family, and the country.
Golden commenced the discussion by noting how Obama has “redefined what it means to be First Lady, both here and abroad,” and see MACBETH on page 9 followed with asking how the role itself changed Obama. Obama’s ten year journey, as she calls it, has made her “more patient, more optimistic –if you can believe that– because our time in the White House allowed my family to see this country up close and personal.” Empathy and sympathy grew within Obama during the two terms of her husband’s presidency. Obama emphasized the need to listen to conflicting viewpoints that come from people of many socioeconomic backgrounds and on various points on the political spectrum by trying to understand the challenges of others. She points out that while empathy is almost never covered in the media because “it’s not sexy, it’s the truth of who we are.”
As the conversation developed, Obama discussed the importance of self care, especially for women, and how this plays a role in motherhood. While being First Lady, she made sure to make time for her children while in the White House to be an example for other working mothers. This carried over to her prohibiting the media from discussing her daughters, Sasha and Malia, in any capacity unless they were at a function with their parents.
Later, Obama addressed an ongoing endeavor to support education, one that she and Barack have developed and raised awareness for since the end of his second term. The two will open the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side, connecting back to Michelle’s upbringing and earlier married life with Barack. She grew up in that area of Chicago and comes from a working class family, one that was not affluent and had little opportunity. She hopes to create a space that encourages young aspiring leaders from Chicago’s South Side and beyond to be more “empathetic, knowledgable, world traveled, and exposed and to become the next congress people, mayors, and presidents around the world.“
Rooted in almost every almost every anecdote from Obama were ideals of hopefulness, optimism, and equality. By the end of the talk when Golden asked Obama how she stays positive, she said that she thinks back to Barack’s answer when she asked him the same question. Barack has responded that “we are living in the best time in the history of the world, to be alive. Things are so much better than they have ever been. We are safer, we are living longer and have access to medical care. We are less cruel, there are fewer wars,” and goes on to list why now should not be regarded as the worst time be alive. She notes that there are still issues to deal with, like climate change, but that “if you were to think along the immediate historical timeline of when you would want to be alive, at least for me, I wouldn’t pick slavery, that didn’t work out so well for us,” to which the crowd chuckled.
For those who were in the adjacent Belding Theater and viewed the simulcast of the discussion, a surprise occurred after the end of the conversation. Obama came into the room and gave her expertise on a fundamental question that often sparks discussion: what is the key to success? Her concise and eloquent answer, “the key to success is failure,” was a poignant message to conclude the evening, as the audience clapped, cheered, and yelled out in agreement.