The heart of Michelle Obama's commencement address at Tuskegee University on Saturday centered on her role as the first black first lady of the United States as a lesson to the students. It offered a reminder that the role of first lady -- a position that for so long was seen as ornamentation to a powerful man -- has evolved and changed along with the country.
Speaking at the historic university that hosted the first flight school for black pilots in World War II, Obama transitioned from the school's history to her own. She noted the tension that surrounded her and her husband during his first campaign. She repeated the questions she faced -- a blend of her position, gender, education and race: "Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?"
"Throughout this journey," she continued, "I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth. I had to answer some basic questions for myself: Who am I? No, really, who am I? What do I care about? And the answers to those questions have resulted in the woman who stands before you today."
Referring to herself as mom in chief, she acknowledged that "that may not be the first thing that some folks want to hear from an Ivy-league educated lawyer," but "it is truly who I am." She encouraged the students to follow the paths that felt true to themselves, to challenge themselves with similar complexities. And she reiterated a key point from her husband's recent talking points:
"You’ve got to vote, vote, vote, vote. That’s it; that's the way we move forward. That’s how we make progress for ourselves and for our country." Young black Americans between 18 and 24 recently passed young whites in turnout -- in presidential elections.
The next presidential election in which those students will vote, of course, will almost certainly feature another complex former first lady on the ballot.