WASHINGTON — For her own Women’s History Month assignment, first lady Michelle Obama visited Anacostia High School, on the poor side of town, where on Thursday she surprised a group of students. One of her goals is to demystify the White House and make it more accessible to the people who live here.
Mrs. Obama told the youngsters she felt isolated from an institution in her own community when she was growing up and that she suspected they may view the White House and the Capitol the way she saw the University of Chicago as a young girl — a place for other people. She shared her story of how she was taunted for talking “like a white girl.”
On Thursday, Mrs. Obama gathered what she called “an amazing group of women together” at the White House, dispatching a slew of role models — including some stars — to talk to youngsters at area schools.
Other high-profile women were Sheryl Crow, Dominique Dawes, Alicia Keys and Debbie Allen, and from Chicago, Penny Pritzker and Maggie Daley, wife of Mayor Daley. Thursday night, the first lady hosted a dinner for 110 local girls at the White House.
Raised on Chicago’s South Side, Mrs. Obama told the students that while she lived near the university, as a kid, she never even took a “walk on campus.”
“And I didn’t think they wanted to have anything to do with me. So we never connected — me and many kids like me in our community, and that big old institution,” said Mrs. Obama, who became a U. of C. Medical Center executive.
The students had lots of questions about Mrs. Obama’s life, lifestyle and family, including daughters Malia and Sasha.
“Why didn’t they come?” one student asked.
“One’s in school and one’s doing a service project, so they’re busy today,” Mrs. Obama said.
Even as first daughters, Malia and Sasha “have to get up, set their alarms, get their own breakfasts, make up their beds, and put on their clothes, and get to school on time. Today, my oldest daughter had to be out of the house by 6:30 a.m. She had to wake up on her own at 5:45 a.m., and she did,” Mrs. Obama said.
Another student wanted to know what it’s like to be followed by the Secret Service
“They bring a lot of commotion, but they’re all good, good folks,” the first lady said.
Then a question few professional reporters would have dared to ask: “Do you put on your own makeup every day?”
“Hmm,” said Mrs. Obama.
The student persisted. “You do your own makeup every day?”
“I didn’t today because it was special. But most of the time I do.”
“You pick your own clothes out?”
“I do,” said Mrs. Obama, in a jacket and pants.
Mrs. Obama told the students it’s cool to be smart.
“And I didn’t care whether it was cool because I remember there were kids around my neighborhood who would say, ‘Ooh, you talk funny, you talk like a white girl.’ I heard that growing up my whole life. I was like, I don’t even know what that means, but you know what, I’m still getting my A.”
PLANTS GARDEN TODAY: Mrs. Obama, plowing ahead with her healthy eating agenda, breaks ground to plant a vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House.
The first lady will be joined by area elementary school students in the “kitchen garden” project. The youngsters will work on the garden from planting through harvesting.
Mrs. Obama has touted the virtue of locally grown foods in previous events. Last July, at a fund-raiser in Chicago, the keynote speaker was Alice Waters, noted as the queen of California cuisine, who made a pitch for “slow food,” “real food” in contrast to fast food. Waters said she recently saw a bumper sticker that said, “If you are what you eat, then I’m fast, cheap and easy.”