Opinion: The softer side of the Obamas’ visit to Britain; Michelle chats with teen girls

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Someday it’ll be a man, but for now the presidential spouse sent off for gentler human relations appearances during the chief executive’s official talks is a woman, Michelle Obama.

She went to Oxford University ON Wednesday to meet with schoolgirls also visiting from Elzabeth Garrett Anderson School. The first lady’s prepared remarks were the usual thrill at being there, appreciation to several people who’d made it possible and her favorite plea for increased volunteerism, even while growing up.

But then came questions from the young women, none impertinent, of course, and mostly adulatory about her husband, the political pioneer. Obama’s full remarks and responses are posted over here.

We were particularly struck by two of the first lady’s down-to-earth, spontaneous....

...girl-to-girl, go-get-'em responses to the future women that also reveal something of how the president’s wife thinks and wants to be seen thinking. Her husband, of course, is a prince.


The first response dealt with being a mother. The second involves her initial impressions of Obama, what attracted her to the future husband, with an urgent suggestion that the young females shun petty jealousies among themselves for teamwork, something many other parents may have mentioned to their own daughters.

She also offers the girls advice on picking a mate (don’t do the check box thing).

(Then, at the bottom here, we have a bonus video of her husband’s interrupted toast to the Queen.)

But truly the most important thing to me is raising strong women and raising my daughters well, probably because that’s what my mother did for me. So I think that is the most important job that I will ever have. And it doesn’t really matter where we live. But my husband and I, the President, we’re very protective to make sure they get privacy and normalcy. But we push them just as we would at any time. Our girls have responsibilities. We want to make sure they don’t take anything for granted; that they’re grateful. The things I tell my girls are the same things I tell all of you. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Learn to use your voice now. Ask questions. Ask stupid questions. Be laughed at. Get it wrong.

Trip, fall, and then get back up. Do your homework. Do chores. Have responsibilities, because what I tell my kids -- you have to practice who you want to be. You know, you don’t wake up one morning and you’re suddenly who you think you want to be. You have to put some energy into it.

Then came the question from Seren:

Q I’m Seren, I’m 13 years old, and my question is, when you first met the President, did you think that he would go on to achieve such great things? MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely not. (Laughter.) No, I’m just kidding. You know, that’s the thing about visioning. So, honestly, when I met him, I knew he was special. And I wish -- I’m sharing secrets now, so we have to pretend like none of these people are here, because they’re writing it all down. (Laughter.) I knew he was a special person. And it had nothing to do with his education. It had nothing to do with his potential. And I say this to young women: Don’t check off -- there are a lot of women who have the boxes. Did he go to the right school? What is his income? It was none of that. It was how he felt about his mother; the love that he felt for his mother; his relationship to women; his work ethic.

We worked together in a firm. He did his work, and he was good, and he was smart, and I liked that. And he was low-key. And he wasn’t impressed with himself. And he was funny. And we joked a lot. And he loved his little sister. Those were the things -- and he was a community organizer. I really respected that. Here we are in a big law firm, right? And everybody was pushing to make money.

He was one of the smartest students at Harvard Law School, one of the smartest associates in our firm. He had the chance to clerk for the Supreme Court.

And I thought, well, you’re definitely going to do that, right? Only a few people even have the chance to do that. And he was like, I mean, not really; I think I can do more work working with folks in churches. And I was like, whoa, that’s different. And he meant it. It wasn’t a line. He wasn’t trying to impress me. It was those kind of values that made me think you don’t meet people like that often. And when you couple that with talent, and he’s cute -- (laughter) -- you know, I always thought he would be useful. (Laughter.) But I had no idea he would be President. I didn’t think he was going to be President until the night we were standing on the stage and he actually won. I was like, gosh, look, you won. (Laughter.) But the lesson, particularly I think for women, in this is, reach for partners that make you better, you know? Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. And trust your instincts. You know, good relationships feel good. They feel right. They don’t hurt. They’re not painful. That’s not just with somebody you want to marry, but it’s with the friends that you choose. It’s with the people you surround yourselves with. And that’s just as important as the school that you choose. Who’s in your life, and do you respect them, and do they respect you? And are you respecting them. Right? And we as women in particular -- and this is such an important message -- starting today, you all have to be supportive of each other. You can’t be jealous, and push and trip, you know? It’s hard enough. So in your lives now, whether you like somebody because of what -- be kind to each other. Support each other. There’s room for everyone to succeed. And that has to start in your lives now. Right? So that’s -- I think that’s a key message for us as women. And if we do it to one another, then we’ll do it in the rest of the world -- is draw goodness to you, and that will help propel you. And I was fortunate to choose a good husband. But that goes for friendships, as well. Does that make sense? Okay. ####