because girl like me
never supposed to be there
place for everyone
Adapted from the remarks made by Former First Lady Michelle Obama at the unveiling of Official Obama White House Portraits on September 7, 2022.
In part, Ms. Obama said:
Oh, believe it or not, it is still a bit odd for me to stand in this historic space, see this big, beautiful painting staring back at me. Growing up on Euclid Avenue, Mommy, I never could have imagined that any of this would be part of my story.
But even if it’s all still a bit awkward for me, I do recognize why moments like these are important, why all of this is absolutely necessary. Traditions like this matter not just for those of us who hold these positions, but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy.
You see, the people — they make their voices heard with their vote. We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power. Those of us lucky enough to serve work, as Barack said, as hard as we can for as long as we can, as long as the people choose to keep us here. And once our time is up, we move on.
And all that remains in this hallowed place are our good efforts and these portraits — portraits that connect our history to the present day, portraits that hang here as history continues to be made.
So, for me, this day is not just about what has happened. It’s also about what could happen.
Because a girl like me, she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kenne- — Kennedy and Dolley Madison. She was never supposed to live in this house, and she definitely wasn’t supposed to serve as First Lady.
But I’ve always wondered: Where does that “supposed to” come from? Who determines it?
And too often in this country, people feel like they have to look a certain way or act a certain way to fit in, that they have to make a lot of money or come from a certain group or class or faith in order to matter.
But what we’re looking at today — a portrait of a biracial kid with an unusual name and the daughter of a water pump operator and a stay-at-home mom — what we are seeing is a reminder that there’s a place for everyone in this country.
Because as Barack said, if the two of us can end up on the walls of the most famous address in the world, then, again, it is so important for every young kid who is doubting themselves to believe that they can, too.
That is what this country is about. It’s not about blood or pedigree or wealth. It’s a place where everyone should have a fair shot, whether you’re a kid taking two buses and a train just to get to school; or a single mother who is working two jobs to put some food on the table; or an immigrant just arriving, getting your first apartment, forging a future for yourself in a place you dreamed of.
That’s why, for me, this day isn’t about me or Barack. It’s not even about these beautiful paintings. It’s about telling that fuller story — a story that includes every single American in every single corner of this country so that our kids and grandkids can see something more for themselves.
And as much as some folks might want us to believe that that story has lost some of its shine, that division and discrimination and everything else might have dimmed its light, I still know deep in my heart that what we share — as my husband continues to say — is so much bigger than what we don’t. Our democracy is so much stronger than our differences.
And this little girl from the South Side is blessed beyond measure to have felt the truth of that fuller story throughout her entire life, never more so than today.
So, thank you to President Biden, to Sharon, and to all of you today for playing a part in this day and all the days that led to it.
She was never supposed to live in this house, and she definitely wasn’t supposed to serve as First Lady.
But I have also always wondered: Where does that “supposed to” come from?
Who determines it?
It is so important for every young kid who is doubting themselves to believe that they can do anything.
That is what made America great.
This is what makes America great.
A quiet voice.
A quiet voice that says, That is what this country is about. It’s not about blood or pedigree or wealth. It’s a place where everyone should have a fair shot, whether you’re a kid taking two buses and a train just to get to school; or a single mother who is working two jobs to put some food on the table; or an immigrant just arriving, getting your first apartment, forging a future for yourself in a place you dreamed of.
We talk a lot about what the ‘Founding Fathers’ meant when they set up this Country.
What they meant with words like ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
What they meant with words like ‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union.’
I want to say that if those guys, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin et al, were in the room and they listened to Michelle Obama, they would have looked at each and nodded and said, THAT’S IT!