Michelle Obama delivered a stirring final speech as first lady Friday, speaking with tears in her eyes as she painted a picture of a nation made better by its multicultural identity.
“Our glorious diversity — our diversities of faiths, colors and creeds — that is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are,” Obama said.
Obama bid farewell from the White House while honoring the 2017 School Counselor of the Year, an award extended through her Reach Higher initiative to encourage post-secondary education.
It was a bittersweet finale to Obama’s eight years in the White House, where she stood as a champion of healthy living and opportunities for higher education.
“No matter where they’re from, how much money their parents have, no matter what they look like, or who they love, or how they worship or what language they speak at home, they have a place in this country,” Obama said with counselors standing alongside her at the podium.
It was a star-studded event featuring actors and performing artists, including Usher, Kelly Rowland, Andy Cohen and Jay Pharoah, all of whom have contributed to the Reach Higher program since it was first established in 2014.
“We wanted to make higher education cool,” Obama said. “We wanted to change the conversation around what it means and what it takes to be a success in this country.”
The first lady leaves the White House as a widely popular public figure: Obama’s approval ratings soared and held strong throughout her husband’s presidency. In the lead-up to the November elections, Gallup placed her favorability ratings at 64 percent, a nod to her stature as a beloved figure within the Democratic Party.
On the presidential campaign trail last fall, Obama was reserved as a marquee speaker among those stumping for Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Her keynote address at the Democratic National Convention drew praise as a high point of the party’s confab.
But despite all the praise, the first lady has remained adamant that once President Obama leaves the White House, she will not be seeking elected office.
Terri Tchorzynski, who works at a technical school in Battle Creek, Mich., was named School Counselor of the Year. She called Obama the nation’s “school counselor-in-chief,” and vowed that the incoming administration would not undo the work the first lady championed.
“I can promise you, all school counselors will continue the legacy that you have established,” she said.
Obama ended her address fighting back tears before saying one final thank you.
“Being your first lady has been the greatest honor of my life,” she said. “And I hope I made you proud.”