1:22 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: I won’t be using the box. (Laughter.) Oh, my goodness, thank you so much. Oh, okay, let’s just go home now. (Laughter.)
I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to be here with all of you today. And I want to thank Elaine for that very kind introduction, and to Elaine and Jerry and their entire family for hosting this event here in their beautiful home. I can’t tell you how much this means to us to have your support. You are true public servants, as well. You live it out every day. You live it out throughout the generations. And it is that foundation that allows Barack and I to do the work that we do. So we are so truly, truly grateful to you for your work and your dedication, your support. So thank you again. (Applause.)
I also want to thank your fabulous governor, who is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world. Yeah, yeah, he is. (Applause.) Governor Patrick. And the only other person I like more than you is Diane. (Laughter.) It’s okay. I know how that goes. (Laughter and applause.)
And also to all the other elected officials here — Elaine acknowledged everyone — I got to meet and say hello to each of you — thank you for your leadership and your service.
And finally, I want to thank all of you for being here today. I love when I get to take pictures and actually talk to everybody before I actually talk, because I feel like I know you all already in our little conversations and hugs.
I am thrilled to see so many new faces in the crowd. But I’m also thrilled to see so many folks who’ve been with us right from the beginning, as well, folks who’ve been through all the ups and downs and the nail-biting moments along the way, because there were many. And today, as we look ahead to the next part of the journey, I’m thinking back to how it all began.
I have to be honest that when Barack first started talking about running for President, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the idea. I was proud of the work that he was doing in the Senate. And I thought that he would make a phenomenal President. That wasn’t the issue. But like a lot of folks, I still had some cynicism about politics. And with two young daughters at home, I was worried about the toll that a presidential campaign would take on our family.
So it took some convincing on Barack’s part. And by “some” –- I mean a lot. (Laughter.) He’s still paying back. (Laughter.) And even as I hit the trail back then, I was still a little uneasy about this whole “Presidents thing.” That's what Malia would call it — we’re doing the “President thing.” We’re still doing that. (Laughter.)
But something happened during those first few months on the campaign trail that changed me.
See, for me, campaigning in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, it wasn’t just about handshakes and stump speeches. It was about conversations that we were having on front porches and in the living rooms of folks where people would just welcome you into their homes, not knowing anything about you welcoming you into their homes and into their lives.
And I remember one of my first events in Iowa was in a gathering in a backyard, a day like today — a beautiful, grassy, long backyard. And it was the first time I was in that home, probably one of the first few times I was in Iowa. But within a few minutes, I was so comfortable there that I kicked my shoes off, and I was standing barefoot in the grass, just talking to folks.
And that’s what campaigning was about for me. That's what it still is for me. It’s about meeting people one-on-one, hearing what’s going on in their lives. I learned about the businesses that folks were trying to keep afloat; the home they loved, but could no longer afford; the spouse who came back from war, and needed so much more help; the child who was so smart, who could be anything in the world she wanted, if only her parents could afford that tuition. And those stories moved me. And even more important, those stories were extremely familiar to me.
You see, in the parents working that extra shift, the parents taking that extra job, I saw Barack’s mother, a young single mom trying to raise Barack and his sister.
I saw my father, who dragged himself to work at the city water plant every morning, because even as his M.S. made him weaker and weaker, he was still determined to be our family’s provider.
In the grandparents coming out of retirement to pitch in and help make ends meet, of course I saw my own mother who has helped raise my girls since the day they were born.
I saw Barack’s grandmother who caught a bus to work before dawn every day to provide for her family. She was the sole primary provider.
In the children I met who were worried about a mom who’s lost her job, or a dad deployed faraway from home, kids so full of promise and dreams, of course I saw my own daughters, who are the center of my world.
See, and the thing is that these folks weren’t asking for much. They were looking for basic things –- like being able to see a doctor when you’re sick. Things like having decent public schools and a chance to go to college even if you’re not rich. Things like making a decent wage, and having a secure retirement, maybe leaving something better for your kids.
And while we may have grown up in different places and seemed different in many ways, their stories were my family’s stories. They were Barack’s family’s stories. Their values they taught one another -– things like you treat people how you want to be treated, you put your family first no matter what, you work hard at every single thing you do, you do what you say you’re going to do –- I mean, those were our family’s values.
And then suddenly, everything that Barack had been saying about how we were all interconnected — about how we’re not just red states or blue states — see, those weren’t just lines from a speech. It was what I was starting to see with my own eyes. And that changed me.
And you know something else that changed me during all those months out on the campaign trail? You all changed me. See, when I got tired, and I did, I would think about folks out there making calls and knocking on doors day after day. Remember that? Some of you were doing that. Never thought you’d be on the phone, down some strange street. (Laughter.)
But that would energize me. When I got discouraged, I would think of folks opening their wallets, even when they didn’t have much to give. I would think of folks who had the courage to let themselves believe again and hope again. And that would give me hope.
And the simple truth is that today, four years later, we are here because of all of you. And I’m not just talking about winning an election. I’m talking about what we’ve been doing every day in the White House since that time to keep fighting for the folks we met and the values we share. I’m talking about what Barack has been doing to help us all win the future.
And at a time when we still have so many challenges and so much work to do, it is easy to forget about what we’ve done along the way.
But let’s just step back a moment and just think about just some of the accomplishments over these past couple of years:
As Elaine said, we’ve gone from an economy on the brink of collapse to an economy that’s starting to grow again.
We’re helping middle-class families by cutting their taxes, and working to stop credit card companies from taking advantage of people.
We’re going to give working moms and dads a childcare tax credit because we know how these costs add up for those families.
And we’re helping women get equal pay for equal work. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, that was the first bill, the very first bill, my husband signed into law as President of the United States. (Applause.)
And because of health reform, millions of folks will finally be able to afford a doctor. Their insurance companies won’t be able to drop their coverage when they get sick, or charge them through the roof because their child has a pre-existing condition. They now have to cover preventative care -– simple things like prenatal care, mammograms, things that save money but more importantly save lives.
And because we don’t want to leave our children and grandchildren a mountain of debt, we’re reducing our deficit by doing what families all across this country are already doing. We’re cutting back so that we can start living within our means.
And we’re investing in things, as well, important things like clean energy, so that we can do something about high gas prices, and scientific research, including important things like stem cell research.
We’re also investing in community colleges, which, as we all know, are a gateway to opportunity for so many folks, and Pell Grants, which help so many young people afford that tuition.
And through a competition called Race to the Top, we’ve got 40 states working to raise standards and reform schools all across the country.
We’re working to live up to our founding values of freedom and equality. And today, because this administration ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, our troops will never again have to lie about who they are to serve the country they love. So. (Applause.)
And you may also recall that my husband appointed two brilliant Supreme Court Justices — (applause) — and for the first time in history, our daughters –- and our sons –- watched three women take their seats on our nation’s highest court. Awesome. (Applause.)
We’re also working to keep our country safe and restore our standing in the world. This administration ended our combat mission in Iraq and has already brought home 100,000 men and women in uniform who have served this country so bravely. And in the coming weeks, he’ll begin drawing down our troops in Afghanistan as well. And today, thanks to the tireless work of our intelligence and counter-terrorism communities and the heroic efforts of our troops, the man behind 9/11 attacks and so many other horrific attacks has finally been brought to justice. (Applause.)
So, as my husband said, these long wars are coming to a responsible end, and it’s time for us to focus on nation-building here at home.
We’re also tackling two issues very near and dear to my heart, both as First Lady and as a mom. The first is childhood obesity. And as so many of you know, this issue doesn’t just affect our kids’ health and how they feel. It affects how they feel about themselves and whether they will even have the energy and the stamina to succeed in school and in life. So we’re working hard to get better food into our schools and into communities and to help parents make better decisions for themselves and for their kids.
The second issue is one that I came to on the campaign trail, meeting so many extraordinary military families. And these are folks who were raising their kids and running their households all alone for months and years on end while their husbands, their spouses were deployed, and they do it with tremendous courage and strength and pride. And that’s why Jill and I launched a nationwide campaign to rally our country to serve these families as well as they have served us. (Applause.)
And finally, just last week, I had the privilege of traveling to Africa and continuing our effort to engage and inspire young people across the globe. I came with a simple message that when it comes to the challenges that we face as a world, whether it’s climate change or poverty, terrorism or disease, we are looking to our young people to lead the way. And I reminded them that everyone has the power to make a difference, even with the smallest of acts in their own families and communities; that those acts can inspire others, and that can create the kind of ripple effect that can transform nations.
So I think that it is fair to say that we have made a lot of progress, significant change, in these last couple of years. (Applause.) And more importantly, we should be proud of what we’ve accomplished together.
But we should never be satisfied, because we know that we still have a lot of work to do. We know that too many of our kids still don’t have what they need to succeed. We know that. We know that too many folks are still struggling just to pay their bills.
I mean, the truth is, is that all those folks that we campaigned for, and we won for, and that we’ve been fighting for these past two and a half years –- those folks still need our help. And that, more than anything, is what drives my husband as President of the United States.
That’s what I see when he returns home after a long day traveling around the country, and from the Oval, and he tells me about the people that he’s met. And I see it in those quiet moments late at night, after the girls have gone to bed, and when he’s at his desk reading the letters that people have sent him. The letter from the woman dying of cancer whose health insurance wouldn’t cover her care. Or the person, so young, with so much promise, but still with so few opportunities.
And I see the worry creasing his face. I hear the passion and determination in his voice. “You won’t believe what these folks are going through.” He told me that last night. “Michelle, it is not right. We’ve got to fix this. We have to do more.”
See, the thing that I try to share with people about my husband is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap; that he might not always remember your name, but if he’s had a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart.
And that’s what he carries with him every day -– that collection of hopes, and dreams, and struggles. That is what gives Barack Obama his passion. That’s why he works so hard every day, starting first thing in the morning, going late into the night, hunched over those briefing books, reading every single word, making notes and writing questions, determined to be more prepared than anybody out there, because all of those wins and losses are not wins and losses for him. They’re wins and losses for the folks whose stories he carries with him, the folks he worries about and prays about before he goes to bed at night.
And in the end, for Barack, and for me, and I know for so many of you, that is what politics is about. It’s not about one President; never has been. It’s not about one person. It’s about how we work together to make real changes that make a real difference in people’s lives. Like the young person attending college today because she can finally afford it. That is happening. The mom or dad who can today take their child to a doctor because of health reform. That is happening. The folks who are working on the line today at places like GM, and bringing home good paychecks for their families. That is happening today.
And now, more than ever before, we need your help to finish what we’ve started. We need all of you to be with us for the next phase of this incredible journey. And I am not going to kid you, it is going to be long. It is going to be hard. And it will have plenty of twists and turns along the way.
But here is the one thing about Barack –- and this is something I’d appreciate even if he hadn’t shown the good judgment to marry me — (laughter) — that even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. He just keeps moving forward. And in those moments when we’re all sweating it, because we have. I have. I’ve nagged him. “What are you doing” (Laughter.) “What's going to happen to that bill? Negotiations — what's going on? What are you doing?” (Laughter.) I’ve done it.
Barack always reminds me that we are playing a long game. He reminds me, as I said to you, too, that change is slow. He reminds me that change doesn’t happen all at once, but that if we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight, doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there, because the truth is we always have in this country. We always have.
And that’s what he needs from all of you, he needs you to be in this with him for the long haul. He needs you to hold fast to our vision and our values and our dreams for our kids and for our country. He needs you to work like you’ve worked before, but even more so. Hard. Really hard. (Laughter.)
And that’s what I plan on doing. I’m not going to ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do. And I won’t be doing it as his wife or as the First Lady. I’ll be doing it as a mother, who wants to leave a legacy for my children. And more than that, I’ll be doing it as a citizen who knows what we can do together to change this country for the better, because the truth is that no matter what happens, my girls will be okay. My girls will have plenty of advantages and opportunities in their lives. And that’s probably true for many of your kids as well.
But I think that the last four years have shown us the truth of what Barack has always said: that if any child in this country is left behind, then that matters to all of us, even if she’s not our daughter, and even if he’s not our son. If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot be fully content with our own family’s good fortune, because that is not what we do in this country.
In the end, we cannot separate our own story from the broader American story. Like it or not, we’re all in this together. And that's as it should be. And I know that if we put our hearts and our souls into this, if we do what we need to do during the next year and a half, then we can continue to make the change that we believe in. And I know that we can build our country for the better for our kids.
So I have one last question, and that is, are you all in this? (Applause.) I mean, are you ready for this? Because I’m in. (Applause.) I am fired up and I am ready to go. (Applause.) And I hope you all are, too, because we are going to need energy, we are going to need focus. So I look forward to getting back out there with all of you in the months and weeks ahead.
Thank you all so much. Thank you for your prayers. (Applause.) We are going to do this. Thank you all so much.
1:45 P.M. EDT