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In her third and final Vogue profile in seven years as First Lady, Michelle Obama opens up about the end of an era. With her last cover, she literally looks the most comfortable, and that’s likely because she is. After trying to find her footing as FLOTUS early on, she’s found it fully. Mrs. Obama has created thriving initiatives, including Reach Higher, Let Girls Learn and, of course, Let’s Move! She’s also trying to leave a lasting effect on young people not only through education and healthier eating, but by spending time with them before she exits the White House. As she told the magazine, what might seem like a confining role as the the leading lady of America has actually been an amazing opportunity.

“I could have spent eight years doing anything, and at some level, it would have been fine,” she said. “I could have focused on flowers. I could have focused on decor. I could have focused on entertainment. Because any First Lady, rightfully, gets to define her role. There’s no legislative authority; you’re not elected. And that’s a wonderful gift of freedom.”

So her emphasis has been on children and young people. Mrs. Obama said that knowing the influence she and Barack have, they want to leave a positive legacy for the youth to see. Kids are watching — we all are. (Take note, Donald.)

“I experience it every single day. They hang on my every word, what I wear, what I say. And it’s not just kids at Howard; it’s not just African-American kids. They are writing papers about us. They come to us and they’re like, ‘I dressed like you for Halloween.’ I let out a nervous chuckle, and she shoots me a look that says, True story. “Little blonde white girl. I’m like, ‘Really, sweetie?’ And she said, ‘Yes! And I looked just like you!’ And I’m like, ‘Of course you did! And you did such a great job!’” We pause to laugh and ponder this for a moment. “But that means something to me. Maybe because I still have kids and I know that they’re influenced by people they look up to, but it makes us want to live right and do right and be right—Every. Single. Day—so that we don’t ever disappoint these kids and they have something to hold on to, and so that they know—as I say all the time—I can do this. You can do this.”michelle-obama

That’s why it’s so important for her to encourage them to aim high. Someone once tried to tell her that her dreams were too big. Yet, had she not pursued them, she wouldn’t be where she is now. As she said when speaking to college freshman at Howard University:

She recounts the story about being told that Princeton “was reaching too high. That the schools I was applying to were too . . . much for me.” You can still hear the disgust in her voice all these years later. “And then I got there and I looked around and thought: I’m just as smart as these people! What were they thinkin’? So there are a lot of people who will try to step on your confidence based on their assumptions about who they think you are.” A murmur of recognition ripples through the audience. “For all of you sitting here, with those doubts in your head—because those whispers of doubt, they stay with you for a very long time—ignore them. . . . I still carry that with me today, as First Lady of the United States, because there are people who don’t think I should be doing that either.”

Unintentionally, Michelle Obama has also influenced a lot of people and made her mark in terms of fashion as a First Lady. While we’re all often wowed by her style moves, Obama said that when she chooses certain looks, it’s all about comfort first.

“It all boils down to comfort level: If I’m going to make you comfortable, then I have to be comfortable first. So my first reaction isn’t ‘Who made this?’ But ‘Let’s try it on. What does it look like? Oooh, that’s cute. Oh, wow. I never thought of wearing something like this. Let’s put a belt on it. I feel gooood in this.’ There are definitely designers that I love, people I love to work with. And who they are as people matters. Are they good people? Do they treat their staff well? Do they treat my staff well? Are they young? Can I give them a boost? But! When all of that is equal . . . is it cute?!”

So with a legacy that is sure to last, what’s next for our beloved FLOTUS once January comes? As she put it, she doesn’t know, but she’s ready to open that next chapter.

“I will take the same approach leaving as I did coming in,” she says. “I won’t know until I’m there. I’ve never been the former First Lady of the United States of America before.” She thinks for a moment. “But I will always be engaged in some way in public service and public life. The minute I left my corporate-law firm to work for the city, I never looked back. I’ve always felt very alive using my gifts and talents to help other people. I sleep better at night. I’m happier. So we’ll look at the issues that I’ve been working on. The question is: How do I engage in those issues from a new platform? I can’t say right now, because we can’t spend that much time really doing the hard work of vetting offers or ideas or options because we’re still closing things out here.”

Check out her full interview, which is a great read, over at Vogue. You can also check out more of the stunning images shot by Annie Leibovitz of Mrs. Obama on the site.




Images via Vogue by Annie Leibovitz 

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