Our Pledge To You

Education

Michelle Obama to get 1st official Chicago namesake — at her alma mater

Michelle Obama's "Becoming" and Delia Owens' “Where the Crawdads Sing” are back on top on the Publishers Weekly hardcover bestsellers lists.

Michelle Obama's "Becoming" and Delia Owens' “Where the Crawdads Sing” are back on top on the Publishers Weekly hardcover bestsellers lists. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Michelle Obama has received countless honors and accolades across the globe for her community service initiatives and work in the White House.

Her latest will come this spring at her hometown high school.

Obama’s alma mater Whitney Young Magnet High School will name its new $4.3 million athletic complex in May after the former first lady, in what’s thought to be Chicago’s first public facility dedicated for an Obama.

Her name was still Michelle Robinson when she made the hours-long commute by CTA bus every day from her native South Shore neighborhood until graduating from the Near West Side school in 1981.

Michelle Obama's Whitney Young High School yearbook photo from 1981. | Sun-Times files

Michelle Obama’s Whitney Young High School yearbook photo from 1981. | Sun-Times files

“We’re really excited about this,” Whitney Young Principal Joyce Kenner said Wednesday. “This is about the kids and benefiting our school community and the public.”

Kenner said school officials discussed the dedication with Obama when she was in Chicago last November to kick off a book tour touting her memoir “Becoming.”

“She didn’t say very much, but she seemed very excited that we would consider doing that. And since it’s for the community, she said she was happy to be part of it,” Kenner said.

Obama didn’t play sports at Whitney Young — she generally avoided joining teams, biographer Peter Slevin wrote in 2016, with Obama quoted as saying “Tall women can do other things. I wasn’t going to be typecast that way,” — but she was on the school’s modern dance team.

Obama championed her “Let’s Move!” national fitness campaign during the family’s two terms in the White House, in an effort to fight childhood obesity.

“She understands the importance of exercise,” Kenner said. “It’s all about keeping students fit. She embodies that spirit of athleticism.”

Kenner said she didn’t expect Obama to be on hand for a May ribbon-cutting. A spokeswoman for the former first lady didn’t return messages seeking comment.

The TIF-funded project includes artificial-turf baseball and football fields, a track, fencing, gates and bleacher seating. It will also include lighting and scoreboards.

Provided rendering

Aaron Greven/AG Design Works

The complex — situated west of Skinner Park and east of Laflin Street, between Monroe and Adams — will serve the selective-enrollment school’s softball, baseball, lacrosse and track teams, but it’ll also be open to neighborhood residents, Kenner said.

The school had been in talks with city officials for about six years to come up with the funding for the project before the City Council approved it in November 2017 and construction began last summer.

Construction initially was expected to be completed by the end of 2018, but bad weather pushed the timetable back, Kenner said. Crews are waiting for temperatures to warm up to finish up work.

In 2014, Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163 renamed two elementary schools, one for Michelle Obama and another for Barack.

The 44th president also had a stretch of Interstate 55 south of the Tri-State Tollway named after him in 2016, a topic that became fodder in this year’s mayoral election when failed candidate Bill Daley proposed renaming the Dan Ryan Expressway for Obama.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also floated a plan for a $60 million selective-enrollment “Barack Obama Prep” high school on the Near North Side, but that fell through in 2016 contract talks with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Just two years removed from the Obama presidency, those make up the former first family’s namesake institutions in the Chicago area — at least for now. Student groups at the City Colleges of Chicago have passed petitions seeking to rename Richard J. Daley College after Michelle Obama, WBEZ reported.

The Obamas have at least a few dozen schools named after them across the country, including ones dedicated to Michelle Obama in Atlanta and Panorama City, California.

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited Peter Slevin’s 2016 biography “Michelle Obama: A Life,” stating that Obama avoided team sports because she hates losing. Slevin wrote that Obama generally avoided joining teams, but not due to an aversion to losing.