As a man who spends his days digging out broken water mains, Jonathan Shanks, a service worker for the DC Water and Sewer Authority, goes to bed early to have strength for his job. He rarely shows emotions, and when it comes to watching television, he can’t ever remember crying.
But on Tuesday night, the tough 58-year-old blue-collar worker displayed a burst of emotions that he didn’t know he had as he watched first lady Michelle Obama talk about her husband during the Democratic National Convention.
“I don’t cry for no speech, but last night Michelle Obama made me feel good. My eyes watered,” said Shanks, whose sentiments were echoed by people from across the Washington area, from senior citizens to young couples, and from a sewer worker to a school teacher in Southeast Washington.
“Our life before moving to Washington was filled with simple joys,” said Mrs. Obama as she talked about falling in love with a man who, long before he became a senator and then president, used to pick her up for dates in a hoopdie and had furniture that came from a dumpster.
She talked about her parents and how they struggled for her to go to college, and about Obama’s mother, a single woman who also struggled to educate her son because his dad was not in his life. She said it was that commonality among their parents that forged their ideas today.
“We learned about dignity and decency. ...We learned about honesty and integrity. … That you don’t take short cuts,” Obama said. “We learned about gratitude and humility ... from the teachers who taught us to the janitors who kept our schools clean.”
During the Republican National Convention, Ann Romney also moved delegates with a very personal address about the love she shares with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. But on Monday night, it was Obama’s time. She spoke about love and how her husband knows that family is even more important than being president.
“I thought she was outstanding,” said Geneva Mays, a retired program manager for the Department of Transportation and founder of the Prince George’s County chapter of the mother’s organization Jack and Jill of America. “Everything that she said had substance. I was so proud of her. It was very emotional toward the end. I could relate to everything that she said about being a parent who wanted the best for her children.”
Arnell Hughes, 35, a journalism teacher at Ballou High School, said she was moved by Michelle Obama’s speech for several reasons. “First of all, we have a sister who is the first lady. She is genuine ... she is caring, and we are getting a message that we normally don’t get. She speaks about family, her husband and the same man she fell in love with.”
During her speech, Obama said, “I love my husband even more than I did four years ago ... even more than I did 23 years ago. ... He’s never forgotten how he started.”
As the first lady spoke, Barbara Streeter began to cry as she watched the speech in her home in Upper Marlboro. To her surprise, she said her husband, Malcolm, was also moved.
“Oh my God, it was wonderful,” Streeter said. “It was empowering. I heard the depths of her love for her husband, her children and the nation. I may not agree with everything the president does but I am excited. My husband is not a political person but he had his eyes on another woman and I said, ‘Go ahead. Keep looking at Michelle Obama.’ I cried tears of joy.”
Obama’s speech built to a powerful conclusion, but one of the most poignant moments was when she talked about her most important calling, which is even more important than being the first lady. “At the end of the day, my most important title is still ‘mom-in-chief.’ ”
And moments later, the White House released a photo of the president seated with his daughters who were all smiles as they watched a wife, mother and first lady who has carved her imprint on a moment in history.
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