FAIRFAX, Va. ―Tamanna Kazi only started at George Mason University a few weeks ago, but she skipped afternoon classes to stand in a packed atrium and witness first Lady Michelle Obama speak on Friday.
“Growing up as a colored child, seeing a colored woman being in the White House is like ‘wow,’” Kazi said. “That’s something that actually happened in the U.S., I can look up to someone who’s like me and not white.”
“She’s kind of like America’s second mom,” she added.
Several students who attended George Mason’s student center to hear her stump for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton described the first lady as a remarkably relatable role model, who was willing to take on issues that past first ladies and politicians had been hesitant to.
Among those issues is the way that Obama has dealt with race, Kazi said. In Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in July, for example, she described how she wakes up each morning in a house that slaves built and watches her daughters, “two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.” Obama also spoke candidly during a commencement speech at Tuskegee University last year of “sleepless nights” over questions she faced because she’s a black woman.
“She’s the one that’s talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, her and her husband, they know what it is. They know the struggle of it, what black people in America face,” Kazi said. “It’s relatable, it’s not fake.”
Charlotte Lombardo, a recent Mason graduate, said that the first lady, who attended Princeton and Harvard, had set an example for how women could lead.
“She’s a woman for one and that’s really empowering. Forever men have had the upper hand, especially in politics, so it’s just nice to see something different and she’s actually excelling,” she said. “Hopefully she’s just spread the woman power onto Hillary. And that will continue.”
Even when the approval ratings of her husband, President Barack Obama, have fluctuated, the first lady’s have remained high. Obama was the most-liked speaker heading into the Democrats’ convention and her favorable rating rose to 64 percent after many praised her convention speech. Chants of “four more years!” broke out after she reminded the crowd at Mason on Friday that her time in office was coming to an end.
Julian Berger, a sophomore studying finance, said that Obama has put herself in the public eye in a way that her predecessors haven’t. She further endeared herself to many when she sang along with host James Corden in a summer episode of “Carpool Karaoke” and joined in with boxed wine and self-checkout fun at CVS with Ellen DeGeneres. She made Oprah Winfrey and much of America smile when she said her husband was “swagalicious.”
“Honestly, I enjoy seeing her on any talk shows and when she did ‘Carpool Karaoke,’ that was like, ‘That’s my first lady.’ There’s no other first lady that I’ve seen that has gone out and done something so different,” Berger said.
At a time when the country seems more polarized then ever, the first lady has successfully transcended partisan politics, said Kathia Maradiaga, a senior studying health administration.
Asked what she thought the first lady’s legacy would be, Maradiaga had a simple answer.
“Love,” she said. “Definitely love.”