On Top of the World


Michelle Obama

By: Peter Slevin

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Michelle Obama: Inspirer and Achiever

By: Kylie Wong

Michelle Obama; former first lady of the United States, was admired by the American citizens and an inspirer of countless others.”1 Michelle Obama was the First Lady when her husband, Barack Obama, became president and took office on January 20, 2009. Michelle Obama first gained attention because her husband took office, but soon gained more attention for her actions in the White House. Peter Slevin, a Medill associate professor and former Washington Post Staff writer, published his book Michelle Obama: A Life in 2015 with the purpose of letting others understand the backstory of Michelle Obama and how she became an inspiration to many people.

In the first four chapters, Slevin discusses the life of Michelle Obama’s parents and their time in high school together. The first chapter discusses the individual life of Michelle’s father Fraser C. Robinson. This section describes how Robinson III’s life as a child was rough because his family was not able to make enough money to provide for necessary needs, such as food and clothes. The second chapter focuses more on Fraser C. Robinson’s relationship with Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Shields, when they were in high school together. The two got married on October 27th, 1960 and moved together to another town. The happy couple eventually gave birth to Michelle Robinson on January 17, 1964. In the next chapter, Slevin takes a quote from Craig Robinson, Michelle’s older brother: “When you grow up as a black kid in a white world, so many times people are telling you (…) you’re not good enough.”2 The topic of this chapter focuses on the imbalance of treatment between African Americans and whites. When Michelle applied to Princeton University, many of her teachers looked down upon her abilities to handle the classes. The fourth chapter focuses on how Michelle started her freshman year in college at Princeton University and how she was “enormously concerned about all young people, especially black women, with identity problems.”3 Around this time of her life, Michelle had doubts about her future, regretting not listening to her high school teachers and doubting her abilities to handle the challenge of college. However, this was a time where she also found more confidence in herself to stand up for opinions.

In the next sections of this book, chapters five to eight, the main focus is how Michelle met Barack Obama and how they would eventually fall in love and start a new life to support each other with whatever they could earn together. In chapter five, the main topic is about the next step in Michelle’s life when she attended Harvard Law School in 1985. “In the spring of 1986, when Michelle was in her first year at Cambridge, she volunteered as an editor for the Harvard Blackletter Journal.”4 It is then discussed of how Barack and Michelle first met each other. They first met in 1989 when Michelle had been assigned to mentor the summer associate, Barack. Sidley Austin had hired him to be a summer associate when he was only a first-year law student. On March 6,1991, Michelle’s father passed away due to bleeding ulcers and a large growth found in his airway. Barack then remembered that “I promised Fraser Robinson that I would take care of his girl.”5 He felt the need that he was the one that must stay by Michelle’s side, so she would not suffer alone. On October 3, 1992, Barack and Michelle were married and ready to start the next chapter of their lives with each other.

In the third section, chapter nine to chapter twelve, Michelle progresses into the next step into her life when Barack gets involved in U.S. politics and their daughters comes into their lives. Malia Obama was born on July 4, 1998, and Sasha was born on June 10, 2001. In February of 2007, Barack began his presidential campaign and won; thus, a new chapter of Michelle’s life began. After a couple of weeks after becoming the First Lady of the United States, Michelle spoke at the White House about equal pay for women. When Michelle delivered her motivational speech, she gained much attention: “Virtually overnight, Michelle had become one of the most prominent women in America.”6 However, when she realized she would not be able to spend much time with her family anymore because she would be too busy with her own work, she realized that being the First Lady was not an easy role. Michelle realized that she would not be able to spend time with her family as she wished because Barack would be busy with his own work and Michelle herself would be busy trying to keep up a good reputation with the public. Despite all these overwhelming emotions, Michelle was still able to take her position seriously. As First Lady, one of her first public roles was to be a morale booster. Michelle gave credit to federal employees for all their anonymous service to the nation. Michelle acknowledged them when she in an inspirational speech: “Everything you do, every piece of blood, sweat, and tears you pour into the work is going to make the difference, in our planet. Just know that we value you, that America values you.”7

In chapters thirteen through fifteen, Michelle’s accomplishments and her drive for a brighter future for the next generation are briefly described. In 2007, Michelle had the idea for a garden for the White House and a larger project on children’s health. Michelle wanted it to be more than just a garden. She wanted it to be a national conversation starter “about the food we eat, the lives we lead, and how all of that affects our children.”8 The new garden became a billboard for Michelle’s views on nutrition and fitness, which was a main focus during her years in the White House. Her main goal was to encourage the younger generation to eat healthy. Michelle also had a goal to open the White House to children that were unlikely to drive past the grounds or be invited inside. In 2011, she collaborated with Dr. Jill Baden in order to launch “Joining Forces” initiative, which called all Americans to support service members, veterans, and their families. This initiative was made to make sure the ones serving their country would receive the benefits they deserve for risking their lives.

The thesis Slevin is trying to prove is how Michelle is a wonderful person to look up to, not just because of her position, but because of what she accomplished and the struggles she has overcome to become who she is today. The first chapters covered information about Michelle and her family, which was necessary for her to discover who she was and what her goals in life were. Slevin wants his audience to realize that it is not easy being the First Lady of The United States. He tries to prove this when he uses direct quotes from Michelle herself. Michelle made a statement that summed up the imagery of her early childhood when she was in school: “Kids teasing me when I studied hard. Teachers telling me not to reach too high because my test scores weren’t good enough. Folks making it clear with what they said or didn’t say that success wasn’t meant for a little girl like me from the South Side of Chicago.”9 Slevin uses this quote to allow the audience insight to the types of words she would receive from others who discouraged her from achieving her goals.

Peter Slevin, as mentioned earlier, is a Medill associate professor who spent many years as a Washington Post staff writer. He teaches classes about politics and media, U.S. role in world affairs, and reporting strategies on current events from the Middle East refugee crisis to the intersection of policing and race. Slevin published Michelle Obama: A Life in 2015. Slevin had been around people involved in U.S politics because he was a Washington Post staff writer. Since Steven was traveling often because of his career, he took particular interest in seeing different points of view and had the desire to learn more about prominent people he had met because of his job, thus, inspiring him to write a book about The First Lady. He was inspired by Michelle’s beliefs of the garden for the White House and her drive to better society for the children. Michelle is described as a “fighter who had feistiness in her heart.”10 Slevin admires Michelle because of her strength as a person and how her presence had a great impact on others.

Around this time when the book was published, it was evident to many that Barack’s presidency would soon end. Slevin probably felt it was appropriate to reassure people that the actions of Michelle Obama would live on, despite the fact that she would soon not be walking around the White House anymore. The conclusion drawn from this book is that Michelle accomplished many good things for this country, just as Obama did when he was in office. “Michelle has always been very vocal about anything. If it’s not right, she’s going to say so.”11 Michelle’s accomplishments should not be forgotten, according to Slevin, so that is why he wants his audience to realize that as well.

Reviews were written by Goodreads for this biography about Michelle Obama. The review by Goodreads praised the book because people thought it was descriptive and included a point of view not usually seen by the citizens. The review summarizes the content contained in the book, but also praises the book as a well written biography. The book was considered to be “an inspiring story of a modern American icon”,12 and “the first comprehensive account of the life and times of Michelle Obama.”13 “From the lessons she learned in Chicago to the messages she shares as one of the most recognizable women in the world, the story of this First Lady is the story of America. Michelle Obama: A Life is a fresh and compelling view of a woman of unique achievement and purpose.”14 This is another direct quote from the review praising the book and how it thoroughly describes the experiences that Michelle had to go through childhood, which makes her the person she is today. As this biography not only received good compliments from Goodreads, the book received good words from editors because of Slevin’s detailed facts from his research. In a Chicago Tribune article, Heidi Stevens writes a review about Slevin’s book. She explains how Slevin talks about her childhood and mentions how her accomplishments aren’t mentioned until the the last chapters of the book. Heidi Stevens believes the book is well written, as Slevin attempts to write with detail in his descriptions of Michelle’s emotions. Stevens compliments the book, claiming that “Michelle’s story is told so powerfully in Slevin’s biography, and suggests she will forever be a force with which to be reckoned.”15

A clear analysis of this book would indicate its high level of organization. It included facts and quotes, which supported the main ideas brought about by Michelle and Barack when they were in office. This book gives a good debriefing of Michelle’s life to an extent, but could have focused more on her accomplishments as First Lady rather than focusing on her parents. This book could have added more details and accomplishments made by her rather than talking more about her parents. Although they did have a big impact in her life, the boom should be more focused towards Michelle and her individual accomplishments in life. The book gives unnecessary information that tends to stray far from the main topic of the book. An example of this is when Slevin mentions that “Fraser and Lavaughn Robinson moving into an apartment of their own in the 1950’s signified advancement.”16 This addition to the book seems misplaced and irrelevant to Slevin’s overall purpose. Thus, this book needs to focus more on Michelle Obama, rather than the extraneous details of her parents’ lives.

This book expresses the social changes that have come to America as a result of the Cold war and rise of fears of “terrorism.” This is because the book describes the social changes that came forth between the racial discrimination, which was evident when Fraser C. Robinson III made note of the difference of treatment between the races during his time period, which was around the time of the Cold War: “The first time that Michelle would encounter racism was at Princeton before classes even started.”17 The main conflict was that racism had caused more trouble during the time of the Cold War because now America had to keep their hands full with controlling riots that were started by those, who were dissatisfied by the means of unfair treatment that had come to the blacks. However, in today’s society, it is evident that African Americans have more rights compared to the days where racial discrimination was shown by policies where whites obviously had more privileges than African Americans. Michelle made a speech on May 17, 2013 at Bowie State University telling stories of slaves who risked their lives to be able to read and write. Michelle gave this speech to let the graduates know that they could not be discouraged because of an ugly past, but rather use it to bolster a better future for themselves.

This book also discusses social media, which was the form of technology that helped influence the reputation that Michelle gained not only as First Lady, but also a strong idol to look up to. “Virtually overnight, Michelle had become one of the most prominent women in America.”18 Social media helped her accomplishments become known to citizens and helped others realize that she would brighten the future for the new generation. As she gained more popularity because of social media, she was able to impact the lives of many from her initiatives to benefit those in need to her garden at the White House to raise awareness of nutrition. Her impact on society will not be forgotten. The impact of technology aided society adopt new perspectives.

This book represents how much Michelle Obama has gone through in her lifetime as both a child and when she became the First Lady of the United States. This book not only covers her great accomplishments, but it also describes her life story. Michelle’s struggles in her life such as losing her father and facing discouragement from other people made her become stronger, with determination to become a better person and gain confidence in her own opinions. Michelle is a caring person, with a great desire to help all those in need. Michelle Obama has truly earned a status of one of the greatest First Ladies that America has seen.

[1] Slevin,Peter. Michelle Obama: A Life.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. 249.
[2] Slevin,Peter. 27.
[3] Slevin,Peter. 46.
[4] Slevin,Peter. 86.
[5] Slevin,Peter. 148.
[6] Slevin,Peter. 251.
[7] Slevin,Peter. 276.
[8] Slevin,Peter. 265.
[9] Slevin,Peter. 288.
[10] Slevin,Peter. 176.
[11] Slevin,Peter. 243.
[12] Goodreads.Personal interview. 10 April 2015.1.
[13] Goodreads.2015.1.
[14] Goodreads.2015.1.
[15] Stevens,Heidi. Personal interview. 30 April 2015.1.
[16] Slevin,Peter. 55.
[17] Slevin,Peter. 96.
[18] Slevin,Peter.249.