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As it’s time for the Obamas to bid adieu from pivotal role in the US, they will certainly be remembered for a myriad of reasons over in the last eight years. And, let’s be honest, we cannot just give the whole credit to US President Barack Obama for that. If Obama is hailed as the ‘people’s president’ the world over, first lady Michelle Obama has created a place of her own. And going by the last few speeches by FLOTUS, she’s certainly proven why.
In commemorating this amazing journey in the White House, where she beautifully graced herself in various roles — that of a wife, mother and a woman who believes and fights for others rights, noted people wrote her farewell letters, “with love”.
An initiative by The New York Times, four well-known personalities wrote letters to Michelle Obama titled, “To the First Lady, With Love”. Eminent Nigerian author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, political activist and journalist Gloria Steinem, Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, and Hollywood actor Rashida Jones each wrote letters to her to express their amazement, gratitude and list all that she has achieved over the eight years that the Obamas have been in the White House.
Michelle Obama will be featured on the cover of The New York Times Style Magazine ‘T’ for its current “Greats” issue scheduled to be published on October 23. She has been introduced as the person “who has spent the last eight years quietly and confidently changing the course of American history”. Along with her, six other global personalities will also feature in the edition that will showcase people who have redefined our culture.
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose 2013 TEDx talk “We Should All Be Feminists”, was sampled in Beyoncé’s song, ‘Flawless’, in her letter wrote explicitly about Michelle Obama’s style, fashion and poise to define her character and her charm. Adichie wrote, “She had the air of a woman who could balance a checkbook, and who knew a good deal when she saw it, and who would tell off whomever needed telling off.” Recalling Obama’s appearance at the 2008 DNC meet, the feminist added, “She was reluctant to be first lady, and did not hide her reluctance beneath platitudes. She seemed not so much unique as true. She sharpened her husband’s then-hazy form, made him solid, more than just a dream.”
The author wrote about how Michelle Obama was actually the US President’s mentor when they had met in a law firm, where they fell in love. Saluting her for all that she has given the world, Adichie wrote, “All over America, black women were still, their eyes watching a form of God, because she represented their image writ large in the world.”
Gloria Steinem, the political activist wrote, “She did this despite an undertow of bias in this country that subtly questioned everything she did. Was she too strong, physically and intellectually, to be a proper first lady?”
Steinem lauded Obama for her strength and wisdom. “She made her husband both more human and effective as a president by being his interpreter and defender, but also someone we knew was capable of being his critic.” She also acknowledged that the First Lady knew exactly when to speak and be vocal about her concern without damaging the image or compromising the position of her husband.
She highlighted little things that she had done over her stay at the White House, changing the demography and practices subtly. Steinem recalls when Obama invited local schoolchildren to perform during Barack Obama’s second campaign. “Those students, mostly African-American kids, were spirited, talented and at ease in a White House that belongs to them as much as to anyone in this country, yet they wouldn’t have been there without Michelle.”
Hollywood actor Rashida Jones seemed be to blown by the many sides of Michelle Obama and completely awed by how she perfectly fit in every role set for her, from wife to mother to a activist and a flamboyant speaker. “All women struggle to reconcile the different people that we are at all times, to merge our conflicting desires, to represent ourselves honestly and feel good about the inherent contradictions. But Michelle manages to do this with poise, regardless of the scrutiny,” Jones wrote in her letter.
The only male voice amid three women, biographer Jon Meacham wrote about the First Lady as person who stood out among the others who have held the position before her. “She was not Mrs. Roosevelt or Mrs. Carter or Mrs. Reagan or Mrs. Clinton, playing roles in affairs of state. Instead she did what the first African-American first lady arguably had to do to play a successful public role… she cultivated her own garden, never threatening and never intimidating her neighbors.”
Among all the four letters, one sentiment rang through loud and clear – as Steinem said, “Michelle Obama will have her own legacy, separate from her husband’s. And it will be that she was the first first lady to show women that they don’t have to choose. That it’s okay to be everything.”