5 Ways Michelle Obama Unequivocally Changed America For The Better

Happy birthday, FLOTUS.

There was one more celebration to be had before the Obamas leave the White House on Jan. 20. Michelle Obama turned 53 on this week, marking a bittersweet last birthday as the First Lady. In the past eight years, Obama transformed in her role as First Lady, first as an accomplished lawyer and mother reluctant to raise two young children under immense pressure then as an advocate of healthy school lunches. In later years, she become an intriguing pop cultural icon who made up one-half of America's coolest First Couple.

Despite the drama surrounding the incoming administration, the Obamas have done their level best to ensure the transition will be smooth, both giving speeches in the last weeks that stress unity and unwavering spirit. In her final speech as First Lady, Obama urged young people to keep hoping and keep fighting. "I will be with you," she said, "rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life."

And she has, from initiatives aimed at improving lives of young people to her faith in the goodness of Americans — even when they didn't extend that goodness to her — many will remember Obama for her efforts in setting a remarkable example for the the country to follow. 

Critics have pointed out that this high-minded appeal to Americans' belief in their shared principles is ineffective, but their faith in America has been the driving spirit behind the administration's actions. This may have been difficult for anyone else, but Obama has put on an exemplary display.

1. As a champion of education for young girls.

Obama has been at the forefront of the White House's Let Girls Learn initiative aimed at empowering young girls across the world through education. Advocates have hailed its impact and called it one of Obama's most profound legacies.  

She also frequently reminded girls to focus on their education. In one speech, Obama famously said, "There is no boy, at this age, that is cute enough or interesting enough to stop you from getting your education... If I had worried about who liked me and who thought I was cute when I was your age, I wouldn't be married to the president of the United States."

2. When she spoke up about gender inequality.

Speaking at an event in Argentina on International Women's Day last year, Obama recalled her own brushes with sexism and how she overcame these challenges. 

"Like most women, I know what it feels like to be overlooked. And like many of you, as a woman, I take all of this personally," she told the audience. "I decided not to listen to the voices of those who doubted or dismissed me. Instead, I decided to listen to my own voice."

3. When her actions transcended political partisanship.

Obama has never taken a liking to partisanship. At the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Obama embraced President George W. Bush in a gesture that made waves on social media. As ideological differences grew more vicious leading up to the election, the hug between Obama and Bush reminded the nation that common ground and decency was still alive and well. 

4. When she proved the power of a speech.

Decades down the road, Obama's thunderous address at the National Democratic Convention will be exhaustively quoted in as many rousing speeches as it will be in high school essays. 

"Our motto is," Obama said, "when they go low, we go high." 

5. When she showed us that it was OK to be goofy.

From mom-dancing the heck out off Jimmy Fallon's shoes to Carpool Karaoke-ing with Missy Elliott and James Cordon, Obama became the queen of late-night shows, showing us that it's totally fine to let loose sometimes.

Cover image via Matteo Chinellato / Shutterstock.com.

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