On Friday, Michelle Obama returned to the spotlight to give her first major speech since she left office—appropriately enough opening it with "I’m back! This is what back looks like." The occasion was a ceremony for the Kennedy Center for the School Counselor of the Year, which Obama's education initiative, Reach Higher, is involved with, meaning that the tone was of course celebratory—at least at first.
After praising the educators present for "transforming the lives of young people across the country," Obama moved on some other recent big transformations in society, namely the negative ones, since they've all of course occurred since Donald Trump replaced her husband in office. (Though she's often shied away from calling out the President directly since his inauguration, Obama is starting to speak the word "Trump" publicly, starting this week by wholeheartedly agreeing with the awkwardness of Melania Trump's unexpected inauguration gift).
On Friday, she once again got explicit about the president without literally naming him by making direct reference to his campaign slogan, making the point that "folks who model decency and dignity and integrity for our kids every single day" rather than "people who happen to be in power" shape children's lives more than anything, which is "what makes America great."
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"Our counselors and educators have a far bigger impact on our kids' lives than any president or first lady," Obama continued—not that she was pardoning the president and first lady from the difficulties of setting examples for children and simply ensuring they get a proper upbringing. "Trust me, I know this work isn’t easy, especially right now. I know there’s a lot of anxiety out there," she continued. Not that she seems to see that as an excuse: "There’s no denying our kids, what they see on TV, the kind of behavior being modeled in public life, that, yes impacts their behavior and their character."
"At times like this, the work you are all doing is even more urgent. It's even more critically important," she continued, once again appearing to directly address Trump by repeating her famous words from her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, in which she called Trump out for "actually bragging about sexually assaulting women" and described how much his behavior had "shaken" her to the core. On Friday, she returned to her most famous of lines once again: "See, you all have the power to teach our kids what it means to go high when others go low. You have that power," she told the audience of educators.
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Obama wasn't about to finish there. "Folks like these up here, you all, you don't get dragged down by the headlines, by the false claims about our children and our neighborhoods, you don't have time for that nonsense because you're out there doing the work," she added, perhaps not so coincidentally following a month in which Trump organized the so-called "Fake News Awards" to address the "losers" who've dared to criticize his administration; was so unabashedly personally insulted by Jay-Z that he asked his nearly 50 million Twitter followers to pass on a message to him; and felt compelled by a series of stories questioning his sanity to assert that one of his greatest assets has always been "being, like, really smart."
Those criticisms have clearly overwhelmed Trump, but that didn't stop Obama from reducing them to simply "noise." Continuing to address and praise the educators—having remarkably only addressing the "president or first lady" once, in passing—Obama concluded: "No matter what's going on right now, out there, all that noise, you know that our young people are the future, and the most important thing we can do as individuals and as a nation is to believe in all of them, to invest in all of them and to build schools and communities worthy of their boundless promise." (Those words, along with the rest, of course, promptly filled the room with a much more welcome type of noise.)
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