Remarks by the First Lady and Oprah Winfrey in a Conversation at the United State of Women Summit
Washington Convention Center
6:43 P.M. EDT
MS. WINFREY: Hi, everybody! (Applause.) We are here for the United State of Women! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Now, I know you all have had a busy, packed, full day — very inspiring, right? (Applause.) And hopefully, our conversation will live up to the hype. But before we begin, of course, I want to take a moment to just acknowledge what has happened in Orlando — that even as we gather here today and we talk about the challenges that women face, we have to remember those that we lost in Orlando, as well as those who were injured, and all of their loves ones, and know that we will all continue to keep them in our thoughts and prayers.
But the one thing I just want us all to know — that in tragic times like these, in this country, it’s time for us to come together, to love each other, to support each other and not tear each other down. (Applause.) So I hope that that is one of the many takeaways that we move forward with. And I just love you all for the work — the amazing work you all have done today and that you do every single day.
So I’m going to turn it over to Oprah.
MS. WINFREY: Hello.
MRS. OBAMA: We have Oprah Winfrey here. (Applause.)
MS. WINFREY: And our First Lady of the United States. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Of America.
MS. WINFREY: Of America, not just of women, yes. (Laughter.) So I think that the fact that — I’ve been watching this being streamed all day, and the fact that there are men here, women here of all ages — young women, maturing women — and all walks of life is a move in the right direction, would you not say?
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely, absolutely. I’m just proud of all the work that’s been done here. So I agree.
MS. WINFREY: Well, I wanted to start with the issue of self-value and self-worth. Because over the years, I’ve interviewed thousands of people, most of them women, and I would say that the root of every dysfunction I’ve ever encountered, every problem has been some sense of a lacking of self-value or of self-worth. And I know that we all know that we live in a world where you are constantly being bombarded by images that encourage you to be liked, literally. And it’s a lot to live up to. And I wonder, particularly you, who have had to face this as your own woman and as a candidate’s wife, the pressure of other people’s expectations — and what can you share with our audience here and online that would help us stand more inside ourselves and own that space?
MRS. OBAMA: Very good question. Well, one of the things that I always — I tell my mentees, I tell my daughters is that our first job in life as women, I think, is to get to know ourselves. And I think a lot of times we don’t do that. We spend our time pleasing, satisfying, looking out into the world to define who we are — listening to the messages, the images, the limited definitions that people have of who we are. And that’s true for women of color for sure. There is a limited box that we are put in, and if we live by that limited definition we miss out on a lot of who we are.
But it takes taking the time to know who you are to be able to deal with the onslaught of negative messages that you’re bound to get. So for me, I came into this with a pretty clear sense of myself. And some of that comes with age. Some of that comes with experience. Some of that comes from being fortunate enough to have been raised by a loving mother, strong, focused, and a father who loved me dearly.
So I fortunately came into this situation with a really clear sense of who I was. So when you hear the smack-talking from outside the world, it’s easy to sort of brush that off. Because I know who I am. (Applause.)
MS. WINFREY: But when you came in, there were the world’s expectations, there were other expectations. What did you really expect?
MRS. OBAMA: It’s interesting, I really tried not to limit myself by expectations.
MS. WINFREY: Because nobody grows up thinking “I’m going to be a First Lady.”
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely not. And as you all know, when Barack was talking about running, I was like, are you crazy? I mean, would you just, like, chill out and do something else with your life? (Laughter.)
So I was working hard to try to get him to do the other thing, so — whatever that was. So, yeah, absolutely, it wasn’t something that I could have planned for, could have expected from myself. But one of the things I knew — because people asked all throughout the campaign what are your issues going to be, what are you going to be like as First Lady, and I said, I have to wait until I get there to figure out what that’s going to feel like for me. I specifically did not read other First Ladies’ books, because I didn’t want to be influenced by how they defined the role. I knew that I would have to find this role — (applause) — very uniquely and specifically to me and who I was.
So I came in thinking about who I wanted to be in this position and who I needed to be for my girls, first of all. So you remember, Malia and Sasha were little itty-bitties when we came into office. I mean, it still moves me to tears to think about the first day I put them in the car with their Secret Service agents to go to their first day of school. And I saw them leaving and I thought, what on Earth am I doing to these babies? So I knew right then and there my first job was to make sure they were going to be whole and normal and cared for in the midst of all this craziness. (Applause.) And then I started to understand that if I was going to protect them, I had to, number one, protect myself and protect my time.
So I knew going into this role that I didn’t want to waste any time; that any time I spent away from my kids — and I actually took this on even before I became First Lady, even as a lawyer, as a vice president at a hospital. One of the things I realized is that if you do not take control over your time and your life, other people will gobble it up. If you don’t prioritize yourself, you constantly start falling lower and lower on your list, your kids fall lower and lower on your list.
MS. WINFREY: So by the time you got here you knew how to do that.
MRS. OBAMA: I knew how to do that.
MS. WINFREY: I think that’s one of the number-one issues with women. I never, in all my years of interviewing, have ever heard a man say, you know, I just don’t have the time, I just don’t, I don’t find a way to balance.
MRS. OBAMA: You know why? Because they don’t have to balance anything. Sorry. (Laughter and applause.) And I hope that that is changing, but so many men don’t have to do it all.
MS. WINFREY: So how did you figure it out? I’ve read the story — I’m sure many of you have heard the story of early on, you were going to a job interview and you took Sasha with you to interview.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, yeah.
MS. WINFREY: We never heard, did you get that job?
MRS. OBAMA: I did. I did.
MS. WINFREY: Okay.
MRS. OBAMA: I was the vice president of community outreach for the University of Chicago Hospital. (Applause.) And I got that job because I didn’t compromise. Because before getting — working at that job, I was working as an associate dean. I had had Malia, Barack was in the U.S. Senate, so I was basically mothering part time on my own, having — I had a full-time job. So I tried part time — I’ve talked about this before — I tried part time because I thought, I have to figure this out, I have to be able to pick the kids up, I’ve got to be able to do all this. So I tried part time. So the only thing I found out from part time was that you just get paid part time. (Applause.) Because I was still doing a full-time job —
MS. WINFREY: Everything, yeah.
MRS. OBAMA: — I was just cramming it all into the few hours that I was there and driving myself crazy. So I had vowed that if I continued to work, that I would never settle for part time. I knew what my time and energy was worth.
So when I went into that — the president’s office to interview for that job, I thought, I have a little baby, I don’t have babysitting, so here we go, we’re all going to go in to see the president because this is who I am. (Laughter.) And I said, and if I take this job, I need flexibility and I need full pay. So if you want me to leave my baby and my kids, then you’re going to have to pay me, because I’m going to do the job — that was never a question. I could deliver. But I knew then I wasn’t going to sell myself short. And I had the leverage, at the time, to make that decision.
MS. WINFREY: Well, that comes from a sense of — and you said you arrived here knowing who you were. I think that is the journey. That is the journey. And there is a question from FarmFreshGal.
MRS. OBAMA: FarmFreshGal.
MS. WINFREY: She must have her own garden.
MRS. OBAMA: I hope.
MS. WINFREY: Like we do, yes. And FarmFreshGal says, “As a woman leader in the corporate world, I feel like I have to be brave a lot,” — and what you just described was brave — “any advice or tips on bravery?”
MRS. OBAMA: That’s a good question. Gosh, I don’t know. If I ever — I don’t ever view it as bravery.
MS. WINFREY: You didn’t think that was brave? Saying, look, I’m going to be paid full time?
MRS. OBAMA: Right.
MS. WINFREY: I think that’s brave.
MRS. OBAMA: I just viewed it as I’m not going to be taken advantage of. (Applause.) I am just not going to keep selling myself —
MS. WINFREY: You knew your value.
MRS. OBAMA: Value. That’s absolutely right.
MS. WINFREY: You knew your value. I was just saying that to a friend recently.
MRS. OBAMA: And that goes back to knowing who you are. And I think as women and young girls, we have to invest that time in getting to understand who we are and liking who we are. (Applause.) Because I like me. I’ve liked me for a very long time. (Applause.) So for a long time I’ve had a very good relationship with myself.
MS. WINFREY: I know.
MRS. OBAMA: And we like — we all like ourselves in here. But you’ve got to work to get to that place. And if you’re going out into the world as a professional and you don’t know who you are, you don’t know what you want, you don’t know how much you’re worth, then you have to be brave. And then you have to count on the kindness and goodness of others to bestow that goodness on you when you should be working to get it on your own. Because you deserve it.
MS. WINFREY: Because you know your own value.
MRS. OBAMA: Know your own value. Absolutely.
MS. WINFREY: Okay. So when you’re saying “I know who I am” — and I’m telling you, it’s the thread that runs through everything. It’s the thing that allows you to stand in your own truth. And one of the things for years that Maya Angelou used to say to me, is “Baby, you need to know that you are alone are enough. You alone are enough.” (Applause.)
So how do we get there? You were there. You’ve loved yourself a long time. What is that process?
MRS. OBAMA: I think it’s different for everyone. And I can’t say that I’ve loved myself for a long time, but there was a journey to get there. And some of it starts as a young girl — when you confront your first bully, the first time somebody calls you out — your name, as we would say. The first disappointments and failures that you have, how do you deal with that? What supports systems do you set up for yourself?
I always tell young girls, surround yourself with goodness. I learned early on how to get the haters out of my life. (Applause.) You’ve got to just sort of surround yourself with people who uplift you, who hold you up. And for whatever reason — well, I was lucky I had people like — I had parents who held me up. I had a father that valued me.
MS. WINFREY: I think people who have good parents are — they come into the world with a strength, yes, and an advantage.
MRS. OBAMA: And that was an advantage. But if you don’t have that parent — that mother, that father — then you’ve got to find it. You’ve got to find those people. Because they’re out there. I tell my mentees all of — there is somebody out there who loves you and who is waiting to love you, and you just have to find them. And that means you have to make room for them. And if you’re surrounded by a bunch of low-life folks who aren’t supporting you, then there is no room for the people who do love you. (Applause.)
MS. WINFREY: You mentioned a moment ago “the haters.” How do you handle the haters, particularly in this office, where haters have to be handled politically correctly and with discretion? (Laughter.) And I know so many people are faced with it — we know this about social media — people say just the meanest things, and you’re faced in your life with people who can tear you down a lot — the haters, hateration.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, when it comes to social media — there are just times I turn off the world, you know. There are just some times you have to give yourself space to be quiet, which means you’ve got to set those phones down. You can’t be reading all that stuff. I mean, that’s like letting somebody just walk up and slap you, you know? (Laughter.) You would never do that. You would never just sit there and go, slap me in the face and I’m good with it. No. So why would you open yourself up to that?
So that’s one thing. With social media and — I don’t read that stuff. I learned that early in the campaign. I couldn’t keep reading stuff about my husband and what people thought and — because I knew who he was. I knew what was going on in our home, in our lives. So I didn’t need to read about it from somebody else.
But the other thing that I have found, particularly in this job, that it’s — people won’t remember what other people say about you, but they will remember what you do. So my strategy — and I’ve always been like this. When a teacher would come and tell me that I couldn’t do something, I would get so much satisfaction proving them wrong. I’d be like, okay, all right, oh, you don’t think I’m going to do X, Y and Z, well I’m going to be the best X, Y, Z you can imagine.
So when it came to this role, I just said, you know, let me just be First Lady. Let me wake up every day and work hard to do something of value, and to do it well, and to do something consequential, and to do something that I care about. And then let that speak for itself. And that would shut up the haters, because I would have a whole portfolio of stuff that defined me because it’s what I did, not what you called me. (Applause.) So the best revenge is success —
MS. WINFREY: Is success, yes.
MRS. OBAMA: — and good work. You don’t have to say anything to the haters. You don’t have to acknowledge them at all. You just wake up every morning and be the best you you can be. And that tends to shut them up.
MS. WINFREY: You know, I’ve always thought too, that the best success comes when you can actually shift your paradigm to service. And obviously, you are in a position of public service. Was it a conscious, intentional decision to sort of sit still, be with this place, and then allow your passion to fuel your interest, allow your passion to lead you to all the things you’ve been able to do with international girls’ education, with health and wellness? Was that a conscious, intentional decision?
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely. Because in this — particularly when you’re in public service, you’re First Lady, the President and you’re interacting with the world, people can smell inauthenticity. They know when you are not what you appear to be. And that was always something that I said in this role that — I want people to know me, know Michelle, Michelle Robinson Obama, not the First Lady. In every interaction I have had with anybody who’s had some connection with me, I have tried to be authentically myself. And in order to do that, I learned that I have to do things that I authentically care about. Because if I fundamentally, deep down have a belief in the cause, and I — it moves me, then I’m going to be excited about it. That excitement is going to be conveyed to the people that I’m trying to reach. It’s not going to be a heavy lift.
That’s why people say, how can you speak in front of all these people and do this every day? Look, I get energy from people. And not everybody in politics, in public service are people-people. Barack and I really do — we are energized by the people we meet, by the military spouses that I meet out there. I picked working with military families because they moved me. I met them out on the campaign trail and I didn’t know that there were millions of military families out there serving and sacrificing in ways that we take for granted in this country. And I vowed then and there, just from meeting them, that if I got to be First Lady I would try to be that voice for them, I would try to shine that light on them. (Applause.)
So that came out of a direct passion for who those people were and what I learned about them.
MS. WINFREY: And I remember when you all first arrived at the White House, you said to the country that this is your house, and we’re going to open this up as your house. And so when I saw all those Girl Scouts out on the lawn, I went, you all really did open up the house. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, yes. That’s been some of the most fulfilling things we’ve been able to do in the White House. It’s really bringing people here who would never, ever get to set foot on that lawn and walk into those doors. (Applause.) I tell my mentees all the time — you know, one of the things I want them to take away when they come — because they come regularly; they come at least once a month and we sit down and we talk, and they have seminars — and I want them all to know you walk into the White House every day, and you walk up to the First Lady of the United States and say, “Hey, Michelle, what’s going on?” And if you can do that, you can do anything. If you can exist in this space at this time in this moment — (applause) —
MS. WINFREY: Yes.
MRS. OBAMA: And there is no class that you can’t handle. There’s no school whose rejection will make you fold or make you crumble. You’ve been here. And I’ve watched so many kids come through those gates and really be in that space — picking tomatoes with me in the garden, getting to sit in and have tastings at the state dinner, being invited to watch Hamilton. I mean, just watching their eyes just experiencing things that really only the privileged get to experience, but having it be kids and people who would never believe they would set foot in that house.
MS. WINFREY: You see them get empowered —
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, gosh, yeah.
MS. WINFREY: — and transformed in the process.
MRS. OBAMA: So many kids, you think their world view will never be the same. And that’s the least we can do as President and First Lady. I think that’s the obligation of anyone who lives in that house. (Applause.)
MS. WINFREY: How do you feel — I always feel that until you take your last breath you’re always growing, and that every experience that you encounter in your life — just all of you being together here today and being in a room with people who are like-minded, who share the same vision — all of that is so stimulating. You leave here and you feel like you can be better and do better. What has the experience — or how has the experience of being First Lady actually grown you?
MRS. OBAMA: Wow. So many ways. I mean, first of all, there is absolutely nothing I can’t do, right? (Applause.)
MS. WINFREY: Because you walk in that —
MRS. OBAMA: That’s right, that’s right.
MS. WINFREY: You live in the White House.
MRS. OBAMA: We’ve been to the mountain top, and it was a hard climb but we made it. (Laughter.) We made it! (Applause.)
So you just — again, you begin to understand how much you can tolerate, how much growth you can have, how much potential there is, how much opportunity there is to help people, how fulfilling it is. I mean, that’s been the thing that I’ve learned, that
MS. WINFREY: Fulfilling in it.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, it feels — public service — I left the practice of law to go into public service for selfish reasons. I wanted to be happy and feel good every single day. I wanted to wake up inspired and ready to do something greater than myself. And that’s what service and giving and — that’s what this room means to so many.
And I just want to make sure that when people leave here they don’t go back into their isolation; that they don’t go back to their phones, looking down. Because this relationship isn’t enough. You need to have people in your lives that you’re connecting with, that you’re helping. I mean, there is nothing that makes me feel better than knowing that I helped to change somebody’s life — Oprah, you know this more than anyone else. And if you’re doing that every single day, the haters, the doubters — none of that matters, because you are getting so much by the — from the work that you’re doing.
MS. WINFREY: Well, you know, I figured this out — early on in the show I had read this quote from Dr. King, one of my favorite quotes from him, that says, “Not everybody can be famous, but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.” And I literally shifted — I used that quote to help me shift the way I saw the platform of television. Instead of like, oh, I’m going to — I’m on TV, how do I use that platform as a platform of service, is what I did.
MRS. OBAMA: Amen.
MS. WINFREY: Yeah.
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, we know. And you did that pretty well too. (Laughter and applause.)
MS. WINFREY: But when you think about growing and being empowered yourself, it is what you’ve been able to do for other people that leaves you the fullest.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, absolutely. That is really the thing. So I don’t know, I don’t sort of — my growth is incidental. It’s the lucky gift I get for giving. And, like you said, I’m still growing. We are all still growing.
I used to tell some of the young people I worked with way back in Chicago days that I used to hate the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because it assumes that at some point you stop becoming and you just are something. And that would be a sad thing to think that this is it.
And that’s one of the things I’ve learned — that there are so many phases to life that this is just — even as big as being First Lady and living in the White House has been, this is still just a portion of a very bigger journey that I have yet to know the outcome. And I won’t know it until I’m laying down. It’s just ever-evolving. (Applause.) And I think that reality — this experience has helped me to see that. These are just phases. And this has been a very interesting phase, and a very impactful phase, but there’s more to come.
MS. WINFREY: I love you saying that — I’m not through.
MRS. OBAMA: We ain’t through! (Laughter.)
MS. WINFREY: We aren’t through! (Applause.) Okay, so, yes, I believe in service. I believe in helping people. I want people to feel fulfilled and empowered in their life. But still, somedays I think it’s just cool to be me. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: And I think that too — some days it’s just cool to be Oprah. (Laughter.)
MS. WINFREY: So I want to know, what are those days when you just say, mmm, mmm, mmm — (laughter) — look at me in the White House. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: There are so — yeah, just sitting up here, mmm, mmm, mmm. (Laughter.) There are a lot of those moments. Prince and Stevie Wonder singing in the East Room, just — may he rest in peace. I mean, those rare gifts of entertainment, the kind of music we have been able to bring into the White House. Sitting with the Pope, watching my mother and my daughters talk to the Pope. That’s like a —
MS. WINFREY: Mmm, mmm, mmm.
MRS. OBAMA: Mmm, mmm, mmm. (Laughter.) Dinner with the Queen of England, just like, mmm, mmm, mmm. (Laughter.)
MS. WINFREY: Mmm, mmm, mmm.
MRS. OBAMA: You know, you try to play these moments off, like oh, yes, yes, I know what I’m doing — and inside you’re going, mmm, mmm, mmm.
MS. WINFREY: Mmm, mmm, mmm.
MRS. OBAMA: Good lord. Watching my husband walk off of Marine One and go to the Oval Office, it’s like, mmm, mmm, mmm. (Laughter and applause.)
MS. WINFREY: Mmm, mmm, mmm. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: And you know he’s got that walk, right?
MS. WINFREY: I know! (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Like, mmm, mmm, mmm.
MS. WINFREY: He’s got the swag. (Laughter.) Did he always have that swag? Or has he gotten swaggier?
MRS. OBAMA: No, he was very swagalicious. (Laughter.) Look, I told people this from the very start, when I — started running — Barack Obama is exactly who he says he is. We both are. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell people. Ain’t no surprises. We’re telling you who we are, and no tricks up our sleeves. We’re regular folks. We care about people. We care about family. We want to do well. We want to make our country proud. We don’t want to waste our talents just making money for ourselves.
Barack Obama hasn’t changed, not as a person. Because he is an authentic man who came in, and he’s going to leave that same person. (Applause.) So it’s not the office that changes you, it’s just — it amplifies who you are. I think I said that at the last convention. Being President doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are. And that’s something that we should all remember. (Applause.)
MS. WINFREY: This is the United State of Women. There are a lot of cool men out here. I love the —
MRS. OBAMA: Let’s give it up for the brothers, for the men out here. (Applause.)
MS. WINFREY: There’s a lot of cool men out here. I love the President’s speech saying you’re looking at a feminist. What can men do leaving here?
MRS. OBAMA: Be better. (Laughter and applause.) Be better at everything. (Applause.) Be better fathers. Good lord, just being good fathers who love your daughters and are providing a solid example of what it means to be a good man in the world, showing them what it feels like to be loved. That is the greatest gift that the men in my life gave to me.
And we’ve talked about this — the fact that I never experienced abuse at the hands of any man in my life. And that’s sad to say that that’s a rare reality. So men can be better at that.
Men can be better husbands, which is — be a part of your family’s life. Do the dishes. (Applause.) Don’t babysit your children. You don’t babysit your own children. (Applause.) Be engaged. Don’t just think going to work and coming home makes you a man. Being a father, being engaged, all that stuff is important.
Be a better employer. When you are sitting at a seat of power at a table of any kind and you look around you just see you, it’s just you and a bunch of men around a table, on a golf course, making deals, and you allow that to happen, and you’re okay with that — be better.
MS. WINFREY: Be better.
MRS. OBAMA: Be better.
MS. WINFREY: Be better. (Applause.) I love that.
MRS. OBAMA: Just be better. (Laughter and applause.) I could go on but I’m not. (Laughter.) You get the point, fellas, right? Fellas? (Applause.) What are you going to be?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Better!
MRS. OBAMA: There you go.
MS. WINFREY: There you go. (Applause.) So here’s the question that comes up over and over and over — we talked a little bit about it — this idea of balance. Is that a false notion for women? Because can we really — are we ever going to have it all? I used to say you can have it all you just can’t have it all at one time. Is that a false notion?
MRS. OBAMA: I am always irritated by the “you can have it all” statement. And I grew irritated with that phrase and that expectation the older I got, as you’re trying to have it all. And you’re beating yourself up, and feeling less than because you aren’t having it all. Because it’s a ridiculous aspiration.
MS. WINFREY: Especially if you’re looking at everybody else’s Facebook page.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, god, everybody has it all. Everybody is lying. They’re lying. (Laughter and applause.) You all need to stop lying. Be real about the fact that — no one gets everything. That was one of the first rules you learned as a little kid. You don’t always get your way. Come on, people. You don’t always get what you want all the time. And that’s true in life.
So what I’ve told many young people is that you can have it all, but oftentimes it’s hard to get it all at the same time.
MS. WINFREY: Yeah, I believe that.
MRS. OBAMA: So it’s just a matter of managing expectations. So for me, for example, you know, when your husband is President of the United States and you have children, something has got to give. I’ve made compromises in my life and my career, but I’ve also, in exchange, gained a wonderful platform to do some great work. Who would have ever imagined that we would make the inroads we’ve made on healthy eating and changing the way our kids are fed in school? (Applause.) I can point to so many things that I’ve had — that I’ve been able to do. If I want to be heavily involved in my girls’ lives that means that sometimes I have to put some things on the back burner to give them what they need.
So it’s hard to have it all. But that’s where you go back to knowing who you are, and knowing that you’re really living through phases. And if you’re compromising through one phase of your journey, you’re not giving it all up, you’re compromising for that phase. There’s another phase that’s coming up where you might be able to have more of what you thought you wanted. You get to know yourself a little bit more.
So, no, I don’t want young women out there to have the expectation that if they’re not having it all that somehow they’re failing. Life is hard. But life is long if you maintain your health, which is one of the reasons why we talk about health, talk about taking care of yourself. Because you want to get to the next phases in life where you can do more of what you want to do at any given time.
MS. WINFREY: You want to be wherever you are right now. And, just like you say, I’m not through.
MRS. OBAMA: Mmm hmm. You’re not through.
MS. WINFREY: Not through. So 5,000 women and men in this room. (Applause.) Thousands and thousands of others streaming us online — hey. (Laughter.) Hey, everybody streaming. What is the one thing — because I think it’s really easy when you come to a conference like this and you get so inspired and you see Marley and Mikaila, those young women, and you see Billie Jean King, and Gloria Steinem, and Shonda Rhimes, and Kerry Washington.
MRS. OBAMA: It’s amazing gathering —
MS. WINFREY: You see all these women and you’re just like, I just want to be more of a woman! And you’re going to be overstimulated. (Laughter.) What is the one thing you want us to leave here with? What is the one charge or one offering? What do you want to say?
MRS. OBAMA: It’s hard to think of one thing.
MS. WINFREY: Okay, a couple.
MRS. OBAMA: But the work always continues. And by that I mean we’re never done. We can never be complacent and think that we’ve arrived now as women. Because I hear this from young women. Some of you young women who aren’t feeling the pains that many of our predecessors have felt — you think, well, there aren’t any problems, women’s rights, we’ve got this all figured out, I’m already equal, I’m good — I’m just like, oh, just you wait, you’ll feel it.
So the work continues. And for all the young women in this room, all the young men, we can never be complacent. Because we have seen in recent times how quickly things can be taken away if we aren’t vigilant, if we don’t know our history, if we don’t continue the work. (Applause.)
So my hope is that people leave here inspired and ready to do something. Again, remember, it’s not what people say about you, it’s what you do. So the question is what are you going to do? How are you going to be better? What are you going to change in your office, in your life, in your relationships? What are you going to change in your family dynamic? And how are you going to empower yourself with the knowledge that you need to know what work needs to be done?
We can’t afford to be ignorant. We can’t afford to be complacent. So we have to continue the work.
MS. WINFREY: I think that’s powerful. Because the question that you just offered to us is what did this mean, and what can I do with what I have received from all the stimulation, all of this energy — what can I do, that’s the question.
You were talking about the next phase. I heard you say that when you all are done — we saw your new house — when you’re —
MRS. OBAMA: We’re neither confirming or denying. (Laughter.)
MS. WINFREY: Okay. (Laughter.) When you all are done — okay, when you’re done and you move out of the White House, I’ve heard you say that you look forward to riding around with the windows down. You’re still going to be Michelle Obama.
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, I know.
MS. WINFREY: And we’re going to know who you are. And it won’t matter how many baseball caps you put on, we’re going to say, “Hey, Michelle.”
MRS. OBAMA: “Hey, Michelle.” (Laughter.) I get that, I see —
MS. WINFREY: So what is the one thing that you think you really want to do? And can we go shopping?
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, girl, let’s go shopping.
MS. WINFREY: Let’s go shopping.
MRS. OBAMA: You and me. That will be a scene. (Laughter.) You know, it’s —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: — go shopping!
MRS. OBAMA: What? You want to go shopping with us? (Applause.) It’s really the little things. And you feel this — fame can be confining. And then you start missing the little things.
What do I want to do? I want to walk out — I want to open my front door without discussing it with anyone — (laughter) — and I want to walk out that door and just walk. (Laughter.) Just want to walk by myself, or with a semblance of feeling like I’m by myself, because that’s what you learn how to do — it’s like, I’m alone with 800 people walking behind me. (Laughter.) But I’ve learned how to — “I’m by myself.”
But I do, I want to walk down a street. I want to sit in a yard that is not a national park. (Laughter.) I do want to drop into Target. I want to — I do, I want to go to Target again! (Laughter.) I’ve heard so many things have changed in Target! (Laughter.) I tell my friends they’re going to have to give me a re-entry training for like, okay, what do you do at CVS now? How do you check out? (Laughter.) It’s like I’ve been living in a cave.
But it is, it’s the small things — fresh air. In the White House you can’t open a window. Sasha opened her window once — there were calls. (Laughter.) “Shut the window!” It never opened again. (Laughter.) So it’s the little things that you —
MS. WINFREY: The things that we all just take for granted.
MRS. OBAMA: Take for granted. I won’t even ask for anonymity, because I think that’s forever gone.
MS. WINFREY: Yes.
MRS. OBAMA: But one of the things that I’ve learned is that if you just flow into a pattern of life with people, they give you space to come in. That’s happened at my kids’ school and the places where I go and work out. Once people get used to the fact that you’re going to be there —
MS. WINFREY: “It’s the First Lady!”
MRS. OBAMA: Then it’s sort of like it’s over. It’s like you do it a few times, it’s like “It’s the First Lady.” So I hope to find a way to seamlessly work my way into a normal life. And it’s going to take time, but I’m going to slowly —
MS. WINFREY: It’s going to happen. And we’re going to go shopping.
MRS. OBAMA: We’re going to shop!
MS. WINFREY: We’re going to go shopping. And you will leave here most proud of?
MRS. OBAMA: You know, truly, I am most proud of my daughters. (Applause.) I mean, I could go down the list of my initiatives, and we have done a lot — changed the way our kids eat. We’ve supported military families, we made that conversation part of the community. The work that we’re doing on girls’ education will be something that I do for the rest of my life. This is all work that will continue. It is there. Those problems won’t be solved in my lifetime.
But raising two girls — like I said at the beginning, when I sent them off in the car that first day and they were so little, and the bulletproof glass was so thick — I thought, oh, my god, I just want them to grow up feeling a sense — knowing that they’re loved by us. Feeling confident. Feeling a sense of normalcy, feeling a sense of obligation to do something outside of themselves. Just being good people.
And we just went to Malia’s high school graduation, and we’re watching Sasha move her way through high school. And I am very proud of those two and how they’ve managed this situation and how they have continued to be themselves, regular little girls just trying to figure it out. And as all mothers do, you breathe that sigh of relief that you didn’t mess up your kids. And every day I cross my fingers and hope that I’m doing right by them, and I’m providing them with a good foundation so that they can be great people.
MS. WINFREY: Thank you. (Applause.) And I just want to say, the way you’ve handled this office, the way you carry yourself, have presented yourself to the United States of America, and the women of the United States of America, and men of the United States of America, reminds me of a line that Maya used to say — it’s actually in the beginning of one of her books — she says “You make me proud to spell my name W-O-M-A-N.” (Applause.) Michelle Obama.
And I would like to add to that: Mmm, mmm, mmm. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Ms. Oprah Winfrey! (Applause.)
7:26 P.M. EDT