Former First Lady Michelle Obama Discusses Leadership, Professional Development, and “Becoming” During Surprise Visit to Spelman College

ATLANTA —On Saturday, May 11, 2019 students from Spelman and Morehouse College spent nearly two hours with Former First Lady Michelle Obama during a surprise visit to the campus. The meeting took place prior to Mrs. Obama’s appearance before a sold-out crowd at the State Farm Arena.

The students, enrolled in Black Women: Developing Public Leadership Skills taught by Marilyn A. Davis, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, have used her bestselling autobiography “Becoming” as a required text in the class.

“Do not hide your story,” Mrs. Obama told the class of more than a dozen students. “Do not hide the truth of who you are. We have to get our stories out there – in all shapes, sizes, and forms.”

During the roundtable conversation, Mrs. Obama shared that the success of the Obamas during their time in the White House, and since leaving, is rooted in their ability to stay prepared to handle adversity. “We were like you,” said Obama. “We were ready to be excellent on a dime. It was easy going high because we practiced it. You can take doubt and criticism and let it eat you up, or you can turn it on its head. It’s going to take you all time to explore the different opportunities out there, but take your time.”

Student quotes:
Rayven Peterson, C’2021, psychology major
“I understand that it is okay to not know what you want to do. The path that you have created is not always set in stone. It can change. It is okay if you fail. Because if you engage in failure, like Mrs. Obama said you will grow and you will become a better you. Just do you. Make sure you are okay with what you are doing. And everything that you do matters.”

Dieudonnne Mundy, C’2020, political science major
“The message that most resonated with me was when we were talking about invisibility and making yourself visible in the spaces that you occupy. When Mrs. Obama said ‘you cannot wait for the world to give you permission to be seen, you have to make yourself be visible – only you have the power.’ That message came at a perfect time for me because I have struggled with whether my accomplishments and journey have been seen. It was really reaffirming. That was one of my biggest takeaways, you have the power to make yourself feel and be seen.”

Jordan Barefield, C’2021, political science major

“I just think that it is really important to realize that how universal some experiences are. Even though we do not come from the same walks of life, and we do not have the same identical incidents in life, we can still relate to one another. And we can still understand different walks of life.”

Anta Njie, C’2019, political science major
“Hearing from Mrs. Obama that we don’t have to have it all figured out, and that failure and loss will come in all different shapes and sizes, was confirmation. She helped me realize that failure only prepares you for success. What we learn from our losses will to catapult us to success. Failing is not something I am fully comfortable with but I now know how to handle it when it comes.”

Leah Herring, C’2019, political science major
“I feel like I was given a realistic push. She gave us her honest perspective and her story. Learning more about her helped me realize that I’m not alone and everything is going to be okay.”

Christopher Wilson, C’2020, Morehouse College
“I was also inspired. I’m going to graduate a year later than I expected, that was really weighing on me. Mrs. Obama’s gems of wisdom were encouraging. Her sharing her experiences on finding her own path helped put me at ease. She is so down to earth; people say that all the time, but to experience it in real time was the best way to end my academic year.”

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