Michelle Obama

White House Portrait Unveiling - Sep. 7, 2022

Michelle Obama
September 07, 2022
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Oh, well, let me thank my husband, first of all, for such spicy remarks.

And of course, thank you, to Joe and Jill, President Biden and, First Lady – Jill Biden. Thank you for, inviting us back. This means so much to us. We were saying at lunch that, the girls have lived in this house longer than they've lived anywhere. And so this, as odd of an home as this can be, as wonderful as it can be, it is a special place because we raised our girls here – and it means so much to come back to friends and to be able to spend time, talking about our girls. And so I am grateful to both of you for the work that you're doing, the love that you're showing us, our staff, and the work that you're doing for this country, thank you so much.

And of course to Vice President Harris and I love to say this, Second Gentleman Emhoff – let's say it again, Second Gentleman, you're doing a great job.

Thank you for joining us today. and I can't go any further without, of course, acknowledging all of the amazing staff – friends, you're more than staff. You’re friends, you're family to us, particularly the people who have been part of my team, over the years. I don't have time to name everyone, thank goodness, but you all know who you are from the campaign to the white house to today. I would not be who I am without your passion and your faith, and all of the love that you poured into everything that we accomplished together. And it was amazing, historic. What did Sam Cass used to say? Unprecedented. You all mean the world to me, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. So thank you. Proud of you, proud of the work that you've done, proud of what you're doing. I also want to take the time to recognize the resident staff. As Barack said, you guys made this a home. We snatched up a few of you all and took you with us, but for those of you who we couldn't bring, we miss you so much. We miss you so much. The best part about this house was you all, so it's so good to see you, and you all look good. So good.

I'd also like to recognize Stewart McLaurin, of course John Rogers, it's been amazing working with you all over the years. I have to recognize Bill Allman, who has been fabulous to work with over the years.

And of course, Thelma Golden and my dear friend Michael Smith for their –

We are where we are because of their comprehensive and rigorous work to identify these incredible artists, and that brings me to our artist. Of course Robert McCurdie who, you know, you did a good job. You did a good job, but I got to spend a lot of time with Sharon Sprung. And Sharon now joins a small but mighty group of women who have painted an official portrait here at the White House.

And I’m thrilled that this extraordinary work is going to be enshrined forever as part of our nation's history, but Sharon, it was wonderful to work with you. You are a true spirit, that's one of the reasons why we connected. Your work is phenomenal, but it was your essence, your soul, the way you saw me, the way we interacted – and it shows in this beautiful work, so thank you for your brilliance, your artistry, and your patience.

In this process. I remember I went to see the work in Brooklyn and poor Sharon, because no one is supposed to know who the artists are, so her studio is her home, and so she had this piece in her home. You couldn't have guests over. You were frightened that it would get out. You just wanted it out of your space. And every year I thought about she must be going crazy. So thank you, thank you so much. Let's give them both a round of applause.

Believe it or not, it is still a bit odd for me to stand in this historic space, see this big, beautiful painting staring back at me. Growing up on Euclid Avenue, Moni, I never could have imagined that any of this would be part of my story. But even if it's all still a bit awkward for me, I do recognize why moments like these are important. Why all of this is absolutely necessary. Traditions like this matter, not just for those of us who hold these positions but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy.

You see the people, they make their voices heard with the vote. We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power. Those of us lucky enough to serve, work, as Barack said, as hard as we can for as long as we can, as long as the people choose to keep us here. And once our time is up, we move on, and all that remains in this hallowed place are our good efforts, and these portraits. Portraits that connect our history to the present day. Portraits that hang here as history continues to be made.

So for me, this day is not just about what has happened, it's also about what could happen. Because a girl like me, she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolley Madison. She was never supposed to live in this house, and she definitely wasn't supposed to serve as first lady.

[AUDIENCE MEMBER] We love you, Michelle.

[M. OBAMA] Love you back.

But I’ve always wondered, where does that supposed to come from? Who determines it? And too often in this country, people feel like they have to look a certain way or act a certain way to fit in. hat they have to make a lot of money or come from a certain group or class or faith in order to matter. But what, we're looking at today – a portrait of a biracial kid, with an unusual name and the daughter of a water pump operator and a stay-at-home mom – what we are seeing is a reminder that there's a place for everyone in this country. Because as Barack said, if the two of us can end up on the walls of the most famous address in the world, then, again, it is so important for every young kid who is doubting themselves, to believe that they can too. That is what this country is about.

It's not about blood or pedigree or wealth. It's a place where everyone should have a fair shot, whether you're a kid taking two buses and a train just to get to school. Or a single mother who's working two jobs to put some food on the table. Or an immigrant just arriving, getting your first apartment, forging a future for yourself in a place you dreamed of. That's why for me this day isn't about me or Barack. It's not even about these beautiful paintings. It's about telling that fuller story, a story that includes every single American in every single corner of the country, so that our kids and grandkids can see something more for themselves. And as much as some folks might want us to believe that that story has lost some of its shine – that division and discrimination and everything else might have dimmed its light – I still know, deep in my heart, that what we share, as my husband continues to say, is so much bigger than what we don't. Our democracy is so much stronger than our differences. and this little girl from the south side is blessed beyond measure, to have felt the truth of that fuller story throughout her entire life, never more so than today. So thank you to President Biden, to Sharon, and to all of you today for playing a part in this day and all the days that led to it.

And now, it is my privilege, to introduce someone who is stepping in shoes and doing it well, someone who has devoted so much of her life to education, working to broaden the idea of who’s story matters – ladies and gentlemen please welcome my friend, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

Obama, M. [CNN]. (2022, September 7) Watch Michelle Obama’s speech at White House portrait unveiling [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LjLI59Hpx0]. Retrieved on October 3, 2022 from https://www.youtube.com/user/CNN.