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As First Lady, Michelle Obama Can Blaze Her Own Trail

Historians say the first lady's role is not specified, so it's up to the Michelle Obama, at RFK Stadium to prepare military care packages, to choose her projects.
Historians say the first lady's role is not specified, so it's up to the Michelle Obama, at RFK Stadium to prepare military care packages, to choose her projects. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
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By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 20, 2009

" Miss Michelle," a tiny boy's voice calls from the crowd, watching Michelle Obama as she greets people at RFK Stadium yesterday.

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She has come here to help assemble care packages to be sent to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Miss Michelle!" the child's voice yells, this time a bit more urgently, but lost in the flash of cameras and the calls of adults who want to get closer.

"Can you ask her to look this way?" Shannon Henderson, the boy's mother, says to a Secret Service agent.

No, he says politely, his eyes quick to notice hands in pockets and small movements.

Someone tells Henderson: "Just yell louder. I'm sure she will look this way."

"Michelle!" Henderson yells above the roar.

Michelle Obama stops. Looks up. Dressed in a sea-green sweater, wrapped in a sea-blue belt. Obama smiles a Hollywood smile and waves at the mother and child.

"It meant the world to me that she would look up," says Henderson, who came with expectations of what a first lady should be and do and say. And she found: "She is a very warm person. You can feel it."

We'd heard that Michelle Obama was more stunning in person. We'd heard that she was down-to-earth. Maya Angelou called her the real thing. But we knew that up close, people are often different.

So over the past days we've watched Obama during the lead-up to the inauguration. We've had trivial questions about her style, wondering about The Dress, her coat, her do. We've had bigger questions, wondering what she might do with her role as first lady.

From Philly to Delaware to Baltimore and finally to D.C., crowds gathered to watch Barack Obama. But people gathered to watch Michelle Obama, too. In Delaware, they delayed her husband's remarks briefly to sing "Happy Birthday" to her. On Sunday, she went to services at the historic 19th Street Baptist Church, where she shook hands with members. That afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial, she grooved to the star-studded lineup, rising to her feet during a performance by Stevie Wonder, Usher and Shakira.

Last night, at the "We Are the Future" concert at Verizon Center, she urged volunteering, thanked troops stationed around the world, then danced again, this time to the Jonas Brothers.


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