As many news reports have pointed out, the world is going gaga for Michelle Obama and this time it’s about more than her J. Crew cardigans. Girls are listening with rapt attention to her working-class story that reporters are calling “extraordinary.”
While it’s great that people are paying attention to her tale, there’s just one thing that the media are missing — Michelle Obama’s story isn’t extraordinary.
Her path in life is inspiring because there are many who don’t even get the opportunity to attend college, regardless of whether it’s paid for by parents or if it comes through the hard work of the student herself. But thousands upon thousands of students every year struggle to find a way to get a college education. Michelle’s story is really an every story. It’s much like those of many women (and men) I went to college with. Michelle came from a working class family who did not have means, but she still managed to earn two degrees — just like me and, I bet, like a lot of you.
My dad is a farmer and my mom stayed at home to raise three children until I was old enough to help out and could cook a bit and sweep the floor. Then my mom went to work in a clothing factory to help support us. Dad worked two jobs, including the farming and growing a huge vegetable garden, so we’d be able to eat in the winter. There wasn’t anyone in my family to give me the check for college and there wasn’t much in the way of financial aid. But I was determined to go, no matter how long it took me to finish. I worked two jobs during college to pay the bills and because of that my grades suffered, but I graduated nonetheless.
I worked full-time and studied part-time until I was able to complete my degree on the eight-year plan. Law school was financed by lots and lots of student loans and lucrative summer internships.
My story isn’t extraordinary either. It’s the story of so many kids who want an education. The only thing that’s extraordinary is that the media are finally paying attention to the tale of thousands of people who want a college education but don’t come from families who have the resources to write the check for $25,000 a year or more.
I love Michelle’s story because it’s similar to mine. What I don’t love is the ooh-ing and ahh-ing of journalists as if Michelle’s story is something new, because it’s not. It’s the story of America — children of working class families who want to do a little better and find jobs that don’t require the labor of our parents.
I want the media to keep talking about Michelle and her story, not because it’s unusual and extraordinary, but because it gives hope to the vast majority of kids in this country — the ones whose parents have known all along they wouldn’t be able to foot the entire bill for four years of college. The ones who knew that there would be a lot of work and sacrifice on their part to piece together the financing for college. And now the ones who thought there would be money from mom and dad for a university education, but, as a result of the economy, can’t give that helping hand anymore.