illustrated portrait of African American first lady Michelle Obama


by Michelle Obama

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Becoming Us, Chapters 9–11

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Chapter 9

Michelle spent nights at Barack’s apartment, surrounded by piles of books and clothes and few furnishings. A voracious reader with knowledge on numerous topics, Barack was concerned about gaining information to help people.

The couple began to know each other better over long dinners, walks, movies, and deep conversations. They were opposites: she was organized, he was messy; she loved macaroni and cheese, he hated it; she liked romantic comedies, he preferred drama. Yet, they were perfect together.

Michelle learned of Barack’s heritage. His mother, Ann, was Hawaiian, and his father, Barack, was Kenyan. After marrying, Ann discovered that Barack had a wife in Nairobi. They divorced, and Ann eventually married Lolo Soetoro, moving young Barack to Jakarta. Eventually, she sent him back to Oahu to be educated. His grandparents raised him and loved him dearly. Barack had two half-sisters: Maya, who lived in Oahu, and Auma, who lived in Nairobi. He may have grown up with less stability than others, but Barack did not dwell on that fact.

One night, Michelle accompanied Barack to speak at a church in Roseland that had been devastated by the closings of steel mills in the 1980s. The parishioners, although at first skeptical, were impressed with Barack by the end of his speech. Michelle was impressed, too, by his encouraging words and investment in working “for the world as it should be.”

Barack declared his love for Michelle in August before returning to law school, nine hundred miles away. Having been accustomed to writing letters to his family all his life, Barack intended to keep in touch by writing: he was “not much of a phone guy.” However, Michelle came from a family that talked together about everything. She insisted that they call each other: “And so it was that Barack became a phone guy.”

At work, Michelle was part of a team to recruit summer associates. Usually, the firm sought recruits at prestigious law schools; less than three percent of associates and less than one percent of partners in law firms were African American. Michelle suggested that they recruit from other law schools as well and consider other criteria besides grade point average: otherwise, they would be excluding candidates who could help the firm thrive just because they were not from privileged backgrounds. Sometimes when Michelle went on recruiting trips, she had opportunities to see Barack. He was living in a tiny apartment and driving an old car with a hole in the floor.

Michelle traveled to Honolulu with Barack to meet his family for Christmas in 1989. Ann clearly adored her son, and they enjoyed discussing numerous topics. Michelle also met his grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley, and his half-sister Maya. Michelle felt comfortable. She saw that Barack was devoted to Ann and cared about everyone. She watched Barack’s relaxed side surface and began to consider him as a potential lifelong partner.

Michelle’s friend Suzanne, always a free spirit, called to announce that she was quitting work to travel with her mother—a decision that Michelle could not support. However, Suzanne returned home months later with different news: both she and her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Unable to cope with her friend’s devastating news, Michelle used work as an excuse to not think about mortality. She eventually traveled to Maryland to say goodbye to Suzanne. The injustice of dying at twenty-six overtook Michelle, and she struggled in her grief as the people around her continued their lives without ever having known Suzanne. 

Chapter 10

Barack returned to Chicago for a job as a summer associate and moved in with...

(This entire section contains 1370 words.)

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Michelle. When he returned to Harvard, he served as president of the Harvard Law Review. Barack’s future was bright; meanwhile, Michelle experienced doubts about her own career choice. She disliked being a lawyer and longed to find another profession. She began a journal to sort through her mixed emotions.

Barack and Michelle were in love, but they had different ideas about marriage due to their different upbringings. While Michelle had always dreamed of falling in love and marrying, Barack, though not opposed to it, was in no hurry to commit to it. Close to graduating from Harvard, he intended to take the Illinois bar exam and interview for jobs. Michelle felt that when he moved back in with her afterwards, his return would “[feel] more permanent.”

Fraser’s condition deteriorated, and sheer exhaustion sometimes rendered him unable to move. Still too proud to consult a physician, he eventually was hospitalized when his legs and feet swelled significantly, and he was diagnosed with Cushing’s Syndrome.

One night, Michelle visited Fraser, who was so swollen he was unable to breathe comfortably or speak. As she cried, he took her hand and kissed it. She interpreted his meaning: don’t cry, I’m proud of you, and I love you. She knew he was asking for forgiveness for not listening to her and calling the doctor sooner; she knew he was saying goodbye. That night, he had a heart attack and passed away. 

Chapter 11

Michelle states that after a loved one dies, everything feels absurd. In their grief, Michelle and Craig argued over what kind of casket to buy their father. They finally reached a compromise and, later that day, were able to laugh at their pitiable state in their grief, knowing that Fraser would have laughed, too.

Losing her friend at twenty-six and her father at fifty-five reminded Michelle that “there was no time to sit around and ponder how [her] life should go.” She began interviewing, asking questions and researching possible careers for an attorney who did not wish to practice law.

She ultimately met Valerie Jarrett, who worked for the mayor; Valerie offered her a job immediately. Michelle was impressed and felt she could learn a great deal from Valerie. In considering the job, in which she would be paid fifty percent less than what she had earned previously, Michelle realized she was not the only one deciding. She wanted to introduce Valerie to Barack—her fiancé.

Previously, when Barack had graduated, he had moved back to Chicago and moved in with Michelle. A man of many prospects, he had sold his book idea on race and identity to a publisher, who had given him an advance and a year to write the book. He was entertaining numerous job offers.

Barack had become Michelle’s support system. He was there when she cried for her father and when she worried about finding a fulfilling career. He always believed that if she stuck to her principles, all would work out, and he believed in her.

In a flashback, Michelle relates how Barack proposed to her. They went out to dinner to celebrate the fact that he had taken the bar exam that day. Michelle recalls having taken the exam twice herself; she felt the sting of failure the first time but passed the second time. She knew it was a difficult exam and worried inwardly that Barack had not studied enough for it. But he wanted to celebrate. During dinner, he broached the subject of marriage, telling her he was not convinced that it was a good idea. A heated debate ensued, during which a waiter brought a dessert plate. When Barack lifted the cover of the plate, instead of dessert, there lay an engagement ring on the plate. Barack dropped to one knee and asked her to honor him by marrying him. She, of course, agreed.

Everything began to fall into place after their engagement. Michelle accepted the job with Valerie at City Hall. Barack accepted a position in a public interest law firm. They vacationed in Nairobi and visited Barack’s half-sister Auma. Michelle reflects that on this trip, they were “learning how to fight.” She admits that back then, she would be overcome with emotion while Barack would stay rational. Now, years later, she explains, they fight more efficiently, less dramatically, and always with love.

Barack’s grandmother Sarah welcomed them warmly, and neighbors and friends stopped by to see Barack’s bride-to-be. Michelle was awed by the experience and her surroundings as well as by dreams of their future together.


Becoming Me, Chapters 5–8


Becoming Us, Chapters 12–15