An #OnlyAtGW Surprise: Seeing Michelle Obama

Students received free tickets to hear former first lady speak—with a bonus visit from her husband, Barack Obama.

GW junior Alexes Harris attended the Michelle Obama event promoting her book, "Becoming." (Briahnna Brown/GW Today)
GW junior Alexes Harris attended the Michelle Obama event promoting her new book, "Becoming." (Briahnna Brown/GW Today)
November 19, 2018

Michelle Obama stopped by Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., Saturday night as part of a national tour promoting her memoir, “Becoming.” In the audience were a few guests who hadn’t expected to be able to be there: George Washington University students who received free tickets from a partnership between the Common Application and Mrs. Obama’s Reach Higher campaign.

Follow along with GW Students at Michelle Obama's Book Tour from The George Washington University on Vimeo.

The wide-ranging discussion with Mrs. Obama, moderated by former White House advisor Valerie Jarrett, turned eventually to the former First Lady's relationship with her husband. That was when Barack Obama put in a surprise live appearance—bearing flowers. 

Junior Alexes Harris, a creative writing major who also works as an assistant in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, described the night to GW Today:

The free tickets were a surprise. First, I was asked if I were available on Saturday night, then I was asked if I wanted to see Mrs. Obama…I was so excited. I said, “Of course,” like that was even a question.

I’m not going to say I was a fan, because I don’t get mesmerized by public figures or celebrities, but I respect her in so many ways. Since her book just came out, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I knew I wanted to eventually. Once I found out I was going to the event, I went straight to the Amazon store in Georgetown. I bought a book for myself and my best friend, who was also going, as a birthday gift. We both plan on reading it together and discussing it.

I wouldn't call the event a reading. It was a conversation. An intimate one—even though it was so many people there, it felt like she was talking to me personally. She read one passage out of her book, and the rest came straight from her.

Everything she said spoke out to me. As a young, proud African-American woman, I grew up watching her like “Wow, she made it,” but after listening to her last night, I was like “Wow, I can make it.” Hearing her be vulnerable with her life, urging women to put ourselves first, and hearing her talk about the love she has from her family, both before and after marriage, was beautiful. I was already pushing myself to be the best version of me I can be, but now I want to push myself so much more. 

When she spoke about how she could sense, at a young age, the disparities in the education system when it comes to race and how children notice that they aren’t cared about at young ages, I thought about my early acceptance in the Urban Teachers program, and why I wanted to get into education. I told a student sitting next to me, “That’s why I want to be a teacher.” I don't want any other student feeling the way she felt, or the way I felt when I was in high school. Children, no matter where they come from, should feel and know that they are cared about. 

Lastly, when [Barack Obama] was brought on stage, I lost it. We all did. Their love story is huge for me. Black love like that is real, which wasn’t portrayed too often for my generation. The fact that I got to experience that with my co-workers and friends was something I will never forget. He wasn't a former president last night, he was a supportive husband, and it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I never thought I'd ever get the chance to say I saw both of them, together, at once. My ancestors fought hard so I could experience this. 

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