The highlight of the 2018-2019 school-year arrived on Nov. 5 when I was asked to chaperon a group of Desert Sands Unified students to see Michelle Obama in Los Angeles for her “Becoming” book tour.
While her story is forever linked to that of her husband’s, this night was dedicated to the story of Michelle Robinson — the intelligent and focused individual who worked her way from humble beginnings in Chicago to excel at two Ivy League schools. This was the woman who would eventually become not only the First Lady of the United States but also the wife of the first African-American President.
Obama spoke of how she faced adversity and discrimination in her childhood and college years, yet remained a steadfast advocate for minorities and graduated at the top of her class at both Princeton and Harvard. The audience learned about the young, bright girl who loved to read, and the articulate and lovely young attorney who stole the heart of a man named Barack Obama. She told of how she became the dedicated mother who creatively shielded her daughters during the White House years, and the inspirational woman who unfolded on the national platform over the last decade.
For Dinora Castillo, a 17-year-old senior at Amistad High School, she found Michelle Obama to be both motivational and inspiring. “Some people didn’t believe in Michelle Obama. I know there are people who doubt me, too, and that motivates me to keep trying my best. For example, I write, and she’s inspired me to write a book.”
Similarly, Jazmin Cardona, also a 17 year-old senior at Amistad High School saw Michelle Obama as a role model. “Michelle Obama is so down-to-earth. She is the former First Lady and famous, but she is also humble, kind, and genuine. You can tell she has raised her daughters to be the same way.”
Gurkiat Singh of Shadow Hills High School noted, “This trip has left a huge impact on me. The amount of perseverance and grit discussed by Michelle Obama shows the level of dedication that is achievable if one puts their mind on a goal and sticks to it. Michelle Obama displayed courage, humility, determination, and an unwavering ambition. I wish to implement these qualities into my own life to better my lifestyle and my drive to succeed. This trip not only inspired me to pursue my goals, but to also not let anyone else tell me what I can and can’t do.”
Eeron Wilson, a student at Shadow Hills High School, asked to present an African-American perspective saying, “I was gifted the ability to see Michelle Obama’s show, “Becoming.” As my group and I jumped off the charter bus, we were surrounded by African-American women who were excited to see the former First Lady of the United States. We walked into the L.A. Forum and saw thousands of attendees. Then, as she appeared on the stage, we dove deep into the mind of a powerful woman and a knowledgeable, African American leader. The fact that a First Lady of the United States has shared the same feelings as I, has understood what I have felt as a Black person, made me feel un-isolated.
Eeron Wilson continued, “She spoke on the idea that changing her vernacular was important to maneuver throughout her life. The First Lady’s speech would change in the presence of other races, similar to how mine has to alter in the presence of other ethnicities to be acceptable. She encouraged us to be proud of being Black and that our skin is not a handicap, but a privilege.”
Kori Amidei and Julia Castro, students at Shadow Hills High School, summed it up by saying, “This was an exceptional experience for so many reasons, and an enlightening night. We were starstruck from the beginning; from the moment we were chosen to the end of the night when Mrs. Obama broke out her favorite dance moves. Mrs. Obama took us on a journey of emotion and wisdom. One of the most valuable things that stood out to all of us was the large amount of women present. As women, it is increasingly more important for us to have those strong role models to inspire us. Mrs. Obama definitely provided a strong example, and made this clear throughout the night as she demonstrated just how much a woman can do. She made it clear that it is OK to be vulnerable and to seek help. On the other hand, she also encouraged us all to own our strengths, most importantly for women to own their intelligence and to be a force in the world. We took these lessons to heart and carried them with us back to our school. The most empowering moment of the night by far was the opening lines of people “becoming” their strongest, truest, and happiest selves, which truly resonated with all of us, especially as we begin our journey into the adult world.”
In many ways, there is much to Michelle Obama that is relatable, such as her humble beginnings, her tight-knit family, her quest for higher education, and her belief in self to pursue what many thought was impossible. These attributes started during her childhood and firmly saw her through her years in the White House. Her story that began in Chicago evolved to include one of the most memorable nights in American history: election night Nov. 4, 2008.
No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, this First Family, made an impact on how we see others, how we view ourselves, and specifically, as a teacher, how I receive each student that comes into my school and classroom. My students and I left the event moved to be better citizens and inspired to find our own ways in which we might seek growth and opportunity to make positive changes in our community and schools.
And as we do, we, too, are becoming.
Author’s note: Special thanks to Shadow Hills High School teacher Heidi Knigge for providing additional quotes. Three DSUSD high schools were able to attend this event: Amistad, Shadow Hills, and Summit.