When the Obama daughters left Chicago for the White House, their parents were — in between stump speeches and Cabinet appointments — focused on getting them to make their beds every day, set their own alarm clocks and manage a $1-a-week allowance. Bedtime was 8 p.m.
Now, former President Barack Obama’s younger daughter, Sasha, is poised to begin her college career at the University of Michigan next week, The Detroit News has learned.
Sasha, whose legal name is Natasha, was seen by students attending summer freshman orientation and again this week accompanied by men believed to be Secret Service agents. She is enrolled in classes that begin Tuesday.
“I was walking by pushing a vacuum and she walked out right in front of me,” said Zach Lassen, a third-year film student from Redford, Michigan. “I said, ‘Excuse me.’ It was a crowded hallway with her and some Secret Service dudes.”
Asked if Obama is enrolled at Michigan, school spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined to comment. “We cannot confirm the enrollment of any student,” he said. “Classes do not start until next week, and we are weeks away from official enrollment information.”
Caroline Adler Morales, a spokeswoman for Michelle Obama, declined to comment Wednesday. New resident move-in for Michigan students was scheduled for Wednesday through Friday, but a handful of students were on campus Tuesday when Lassen says he bumped into the younger Obama.
Asked what he thought about her on campus, Lassen said some people he worked with were a tad annoyed with the added security. But Lassen added: “It’s pretty cool.” Another student, an 18-year-old freshman who declined to be named, said Wednesday she saw Obama during her student orientation, and that they have mutual friends.
A Big Ten school in the Midwest puts her on a path different from her mother, father and sister, all of whom attended Ivy League schools and all of whom have studied at Harvard University.
Her big sister, Malia Obama, took a gap year in 2016 before enrolling at Harvard, where her parents both attended law school. Malia Obama begins her third year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this fall.
Barack Obama attended Columbia University in New York City for his undergraduate studies, after transferring from Occidental College in California. Michelle Obama, who was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University in New Jersey.
“I think it’s cool that even though her family went to Ivy League schools, she decided that U-M was the caliber high enough to match that of an Ivy League school,” said Jessica Brinser, a sophomore from Washington, Michigan.
Sasha and Malia attended University of Chicago Laboratory Schools before the move to Washington, D.C., at ages 7 and 10, respectively. They both attended Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker-run school that educates many children of Washington elite.
Despite a rancorous political climate, the girls were largely off-limits for political adversaries of the Obamas. The communications director for a Republican congressman was forced to resign after she told the girls to “show a little class” in a widely condemned Facebook post after the siblings appeared at the White House turkey pardon in 2014.
Elizabeth Lauten’s former boss, ex-Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, now running for president, put it bluntly at the time: “Elizabeth should have kept her mouth quiet.”
After vacating the West Wing, the Obamas moved into a home in the tony Kalorama neighborhood of D.C. so Sasha could finish school at Sidwell Friends, where Malia graduated in 2016. During her gap year, Malia traveled to South America, rocked out at Lolla and interned at the Weinsten Co. — before a series of news reports on co-founder Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct scuttled the firm.
Speculation about the youngest Obama becoming a Wolverine began after a private Instagram account attributed to her posted a photo of Sasha and two friends on the Ann Arbor campus. She tagged UM and wrote: “So proud to say I’m going to college with my sisters!!”
UM has a publicly searchable online directory, MCommunity, and a group was created, then disabled, with the name of Natasha Obama, also known as Sasha Obama. Any UM student, staff member or faculty member can create a group in the directory, Fitzgerald said. Asked why it had been created, Fitzgerald said it is a disabled email group account, not an individual account. The group was deleted from the database shortly after The Detroit News asked about it.
“This group was created in January, perhaps spurred by media reports of Sasha Obama visiting our campus,” Fitzgerald said. “Faculty, staff and students all have the ability to create group accounts in MCommunity. The group is disabled and is in the process of being deleted. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.”
Many who were walking around campus said they hadn’t seen her but were excited, saying they had seen official cars driving around the dorm and wondered if it meant Obama was in town.
Brinser, the sophomore from Washington, wishes Obama well. “We hope she finds her fit here just like we all have,” she said. “We all love it here. We hope she does, too.”
Chicago Tribune’s Charles J. Johnson contributed.