Detroit—Accomplished lawyer? Check. First lady of the United States? Been there, done that. Bestselling author? Three million checks.
With a resume like Michelle Obama’s, its sometimes easy to forget that the beginning of her story is a lot more relatable than you’d think—a point that she hoped to get across to a group of students she surprised on Tuesday at the Motown Museum.
The group of 18 young men of color from Wayne State University was invited to take part in a discussion led Obama’s older brother and vice president of player development for the New York Knicks, Craig Robinson, as well as actor and Detroit native Keegan-Michael Key, about education and navigating college life as men of color.
The group, however, were not aware that they would also get a visit from the Forever-FLOTUS herself.
“Do you mind if I sit in?” she said as she greeted the group of men. The tone in the room abruptly shifted when Obama entered, visibly shocking the young men in the room.
“This was supposed to be boys only,” Robinson joked.
The discussion, organized by Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, was one of many the first lady has joined in various cities throughout her Becoming: An Intimate Conversation With Michelle Obama tour; however, this was the first conversation during the tour with a focus on young men.
Obama sat among the young men as Robinson shared his own experiences from Princeton with the students, including the time he thought about leaving the Ivy League university.
I was taking physics, chemistry, calculus, then I took economics with calculus section because I didn’t know any better. I was the first person from my family to go to college. I couldn’t call my dad up and say ‘Hey, what did you do?’ He didn’t go to college… I was also on the basketball team. And when I got my midterm grades, I am not ashamed to tell you, I got a C, two Ds and an F.
I called my dad up crying and I said ‘I’m in the wrong place. This isn’t for me. Princeton is not for me.’ And this was back when you had to go to the telephone booth to call home. So I’m in the telephone booth, crying like ‘I’m in over my head.’ You know what he said? And I’m going to say the same thing to you. He said ‘How many students are at Princeton?’ I was like ‘4,000.’ So he says ‘So that means there’s probably 1,000 in your class, right?’ And he finally says, ‘Look, you’re not going to be No. 1 in your class, but you’re not going to be No. 1,000 either.’ Just think about that. You know how this college thing works. As long as you’re trying, you will not fail.”
Obama engaged in the conversation, encouraging the students, emphasizing the importance of valuing each of their unique journeys, like her own.
“Kids like us don’t usually like to share our story because we feel like our story doesn’t really fit the mold, but I got into Princeton sharing my story,” Obama explained. “Sharing all the ups and downs, the dings and the bruises, and owning it fully. I think part of it is understanding what was your journey that got you here, and do you value that journey? Because there is value in that journey more than you guys will ever know.
“It will continue beyond college,” she continued. “There were people who thought that Barack couldn’t be president. There were people who questioned whether I would be a first lady. My brother gets questioned all the time whether he’s qualified or able. We all face those things. That doesn’t go away. But you have to practice knowing who you are and focus on just doing the work, day by day. That’s really all you can do. That’s your proof to the naysayers.”
Obama’s stop at the Motown Museum was her first time to Hitsville USA, once home of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy and the company’s first headquarters. To mark the first lady’s visit to the historic museum, she released a playlist of her favorite classic Motown songs.