Michelle Obama talks the talk, walks the walk

“We’re constantly in a period of growth and evolution. I want us all to revel in the fact that our journeys never end.”

These were words from Michelle Obama at a speaking engagement in Winnipeg earlier this week. The former U.S. first lady spoke to a nearly sold-out arena and highlighted the key moments in her life that brought her to where she is today.

I have been to a couple of these events, often called conversations or fireside chats, where a celebrity – in this case a champion for kids, healthy living and female empowerment to name a few – shares their life story and uses the platform as a motivational speech of sorts. I am always fascinated to hear someone’s story. When we actually sit and listen to someone open up and talk about what makes them who they are, it is truly an eye-opening experience. 

In the case of Michelle (and she insists people call her that rather than Mrs. Obama or first lady), she noted how important it is that people invest in their future. She didn’t stop there, she highlighted how important it is for us to shape the future of others.

When Michelle was growing up in Chicago’s infamous South Side, she said she wasn’t afforded the opportunities as other “working-class kids.” In fact, she recalled a time when she was all but told she would fail.

“If you are a girl and a person of colour, people will tell you what you can’t do and not what you can do,” Michelle recollected. “It’s time for women to have a platform to tell their stories. We’re not defined by language or culture, we’re defined by what’s within us.”

Michelle’s parents didn’t go to college and weren’t so certain they could set her up professionally as they would have hoped.

“Parents like mine believed they couldn’t open up doors (for me) but they instilled in me a foundation of compassion and empathy,” said Michelle, adding, “we understand the wisdom we get with age and experience.” She poked at the teenagers in the room – 500 students who were given tickets to the event: “I love young people but y’all don’t know nothing about life experience.”

Talking to the adults in the room, Michelle said, “Our best investment is in every young person. Education means opportunity.”

And what opportunities she’s had, right? She said life changed for her the instant her husband, Barack, won the U.S. presidency in 2008. Raising two kids in the White House, Michelle noted her first priority was to her daughters’ education. She knew Sasha and Malia wouldn’t have a “normal” childhood but as a mother, Michelle knew she had to do what she could to make sure they remained kids. That included a focus on school.

“All kids have potential,” said Michelle. “We owe kids an equal investment. Think of the assets we’re wasting by picking and choosing which kids are worth the investment.”

Michelle did a great job landing her points and having those words make a statement. She can pack a punch that makes you sit there in awe for a moment.

“We are looking for the next generation of leaders – of all aspects of society,” said Michelle. “What better way to multiply ourselves than by investing in young people.

Michelle confidently said she will be front in centre ensuring that happens.

“My job is to fill as many kids with as much possibility as I can. That is my job,” said Michelle. “If I can do this, you can do this. That’ll push them beyond the limited expectations we impose upon them.” 

At the end of the day, Michelle said things are pretty straightforward in life.

“People are people,” she said, continuing to speak in well-choreographed soundbites. “We are all humans just trying to figure it out. Compromise is the key to our humanity. I’ve seen how much we have in common. The vast majority of people just want to live a decent life.”

Now at 55 years old, Michelle said she is happy with the person she has become – thus the title of her book, Becoming.

“I can look back on my life and look back at my accomplishments and say I’m OK and I’m happy with who I am,” said Michelle. “I like who I am. I’ve always believed in my story.”

And it was that advice Michelle gave as she closed her appearance in Winnipeg.

“Own your story – the good, the bad, the mistakes. That’s the better way to live.”

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