Michelle 'Changed History': Notes of Thanks in NYT

Gloria Steinem, Rashida Jones, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Jon Meacham express their gratitude
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 18, 2016 1:23 PM CDT
4 Moving Letters of Thanks to the First Lady
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife, Agnese Landini, upon arrival for a state arrival ceremony on Tuesday at the White House.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Michelle Obama has been using her last few months in the White House to tidy up her garden, make new friends, and take on Donald Trump. And four notables have penned thank-you notes to her for her efforts in the New York Times, which salutes the first lady for spending "the past eight years quietly and confidently changing the course of American history." Here, the Times' letters of gratitude:

  • Women's activist Gloria Steinem: Steinem notes that Obama appeared on her radar "in stages"—but that "she really entered my imagination once she became first lady, a tall, strong, elegant, and seriously smart woman who happened to live in the White House." Steinem notes Obama's dignity, humor, and her ability to live in the public eye "without sacrificing her privacy and authenticity." Her greatest impact, per Steinem? "Michelle Obama may have changed history in the most powerful way—by example."

  • Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham: Meacham waxes nostalgic about the "Age of Obama," noting the cool, collected way in which both the first lady and her husband have handled their time in the White House. He concedes that not everyone agrees, but also points out that "this is the same country that managed, in some quarters, to hold Eleanor Roosevelt in contempt." But Michelle didn't just make it through the scrutiny, Meacham says—she "prevailed" over it. "In Voltaire's terms," he writes, "she cultivated her own garden, never threatening and never intimidating her neighbors."
  • Actress Rashida Jones: Jones talks about the "warm" and "gracious" Michelle she first met at a mentoring initiative—and how the first lady's role as both a "perfect hostess" and an "outspoken activist" and proud black woman often confused both "traditionalists" and "progressives." And that's exactly what Jones admires about Obama, whom she pegs as the epitome of the "modern American woman" in all her complexity. "All women struggle to reconcile the different people that we are at all times," she writes. But the first lady does it with "poise"—and shows women "they don't have to choose. That it's OK to be everything."
  • Author and MacArthur Foundation grant recipient Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Adichie touches on how the first lady was constantly forced to fight her portrayal as the "Angry Black Woman," constantly on the defense against being "unpatriotic" and wielding a tongue of "wit and barb." "I felt protective of her because she was speaking to an America often too quick to read a black woman's confidence as arrogance, her straightforwardness as entitlement," Adichie notes. But Obama transcended that, through her work with veterans and schoolchildren, her education initiatives, and even her role as a fashion icon: "No public figure better embodies that mantra of full female selfhood: Wear what you like."
Read all of their letters in full at the Times. (Read more opinion stories.)

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