Michelle Obama Gets Personal

What dreams are left for the woman who grew up working class in Chicago, graduated from Princeton and Harvard law and became the first African-American first lady of the United StatesHere’s one of them: “To open a secret door for others that hadn’t been opened for me,” by pairing disadvantaged girls with some of the powerful women in the land. Join us for an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look

by Tamara Jones
michelle obama photo
Photograph: Peggy Sirota

Paying it forward is a concept that Obama hopes to plant in her mentees and that she fully expects her two daughters—“my prime mentees”—Malia, 13, and Sasha, 10, to practice.

“This is the first year that my oldest daughter has branched out into service on her own, seeking out opportunities,” Obama adds. “And like me, she loves working with kids.”

Ultimately, it’s the mother in Obama who yearns to help shape the futures of these teens who at first gasp at the sight of her, then later feel chummy enough to tell her, as one girl did, how “fly” her sweater was and to ask where she got it. She has no plans—and no real desire—to chart the program’s impact or quantify its success. Human connection can’t really be measured that way, she feels. “Will all the girls go to college?” she muses. “Don’t know. Will all of them go to some fancy Ivy League college? Oh, definitely not. But they will feel good about themselves. They will know that they’ve breathed in some of the most rarefied air, and it felt normal to them. They know that if you can do this, then there isn’t anything you can’t do.

“There isn’t any room you can’t walk into.”

TAMARA JONES is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author in the Washington, D.C., area.

Originally published in the February 2012 issue of MORE.

Click here to see behind-the-scenes photos from Michelle Obama's mentoring program.

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First Published January 31, 2012

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