Michelle Obama and moderator Stephen Colbert at the Ryman Auditorium, the final stop on Obama’s Becoming book tour. Photo by Jordan O’Donnell

By Cillea Houghton 

NASHVILLE, TN — The energy was electrifying as Michelle Obama took the stage at the Ryman Auditorium for the final stop on her Becoming book tour. In a conversation moderated by Late Show host Stephen Colbert, Obama discussed topics including growing up in Chicago, her journey to the White House and experience as first lady. 

As a self-described “box checker” who was constantly working toward academic success, Obama revealed how the death of her father, Fraser Robinson, and her friend Suzanne Alele, inspired her to pursue her passion for giving back and mentoring young people. “I owe these people a better use of this life that I have,” she said of her reformed perspective in the wake of their passing. 

She also attributes meeting husband Barack Obama as another catalyst in helping to form her career vision. The two met in 1989 when Obama was working at esteemed law firm Sidley & Austin in Chicago and Barack became a summer associate, their relationship quickly blossoming. “Never before had I stopped to think about who I wanted to be,” she recollected. “I know he had big visions about life…he was always thinking deeper and bigger.” 

The former first lady also opened up about the stress of campaigning as Barack ran for president the first time, noting that as she became a valuable asset to her husband, the more susceptible she was to public ridicule. “Your vulnerability and your honesty is what opens people up, and that’s what was happening on the campaign trail,” she explained. Obama conveyed the struggle of watching the media manipulate her inspiring words and how being called an “ape in heels,” in addition to a Fox News host referring to a photo of her and Barack fist bumping at a campaign rally as a “terrorist fist jab,” made her aware of the jarring nature of politics. Instead of surrendering to the pressure and quitting the campaign, she learned how to approach politics with dignity and reclaim her voice. “Never again will I leave it to somebody else to define me,” she said of her mentality going into the White House after Barack was elected in 2008, adding that she learned how to shape her voice “quickly.” 

Commenting on the current political climate, Obama described the nation as being at a “crossroads.” “I told the American people what we needed in a president and I was really clear about that,” she said. “I’m waiting to see what we do…I remain hopeful that people want better.” Her conclusive statements emphasized unity, revealing how traveling the world on her book tour reinforced the similarities that exist between people of all cultures. Obama also shared that she and Barack will continue to make the “most important investment” by fostering youth leadership around the globe.  

“I watch the news and I don’t recognize the world that I am out in…The energy that’s out there is much better than what we see,” she observed. “Everyone around the world is living the same life…We have to trust that we can be vulnerable with people who don’t look like us…If people see themselves in this story, then we are so close.”