Chapters 23 & 24 & Epilogue

Summary: Chapter 23

Even though Michelle knows she is considered popular, she continues to feel the pressure of being the first Black First Lady. She wants to do whatever she can to help Barack win reelection in 2012, in the face of cynical opposition from Republicans in Congress. First, however, she heads to Africa for a tour that includes inspiring meetings with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. In the fall, Michelle works to continue the progress of the Let’s Move! initiative, teams up with Jill Biden to remodel a disabled veteran’s home and discovers the power of social media. Her first tweet is to promote Joining Forces. Over the coming year, Barack stays only barely ahead of his Republican opponent Mitt Romney in the polls and performs poorly in the first televised fall debate. On election night, Michelle deliberately tunes out the news and therefore is slow to learn that Barack has won again.

Five weeks later, when a shooter at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut kills twenty-six children and staff, Michelle is too shaken to join Barack at an on-site prayer vigil. When, shortly after Barack’s second inauguration, a girl from Chicago’s South Side is killed in a drive-by shooting, Michelle feels it is time for her to step up. The girl, who had just performed with her school band at Barack’s second inaugural, was a smart, ambitious youngster, just like Michelle years ago. Michelle attends the funeral and speaks with the girl’s parents. Months later, she has an honest conversation with a group of South Side students, who tell her that sometimes the middle of the street is literally the safest place to be when walking to school. She tells them that Washington is not going to help with the gang violence problem, and that education is their hope of a better life. Michelle’s new Reach Higher initiative seeks to encourage young people to attend college. 

Summary: Chapter 24

The Obamas continue trying to keep their girls’ lives as normal as possible. Michelle’s staff regularly asks gossip websites to take down pictures of the girls. Bo and a new puppy, Sunny, become the family’s go-to ambassadors at White House publicity shoots. When Malia starts visiting prospective colleges, Michelle learns to send her assistant as escort instead of coming along herself. Sadly, the world continues to be a violent place. Several deaths of young Black men at the hands of police make national news. After a young white man kills nine Black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Barack leads the mourning congregation in singing “Amazing Grace.” There are happy occasions as well, however. When the Supreme Court affirms the right to same-sex marriage and the White House celebrates with rainbow lighting, Michelle and Malia sneak outside to enjoy the spectacle.

As the 2016 presidential race gets under way, the Obamas make their most of their remaining time in the White House. Together, they work on their Let Girls Learn initiative, which seeks to increase access to education for adolescent girls around the world; Michelle promotes the effort by enlisting the help of entertainment celebrities, and by TV appearances with the likes of Stephen Colbert and James Corden. During a final visit to the United Kingdom, the Queen shows that she cares about protocol much less than her staff does.

Michelle is appalled at Donald Trump’s bullying conduct in the past and during the campaign. She speaks on Hillary Clinton’s behalf at the Democratic convention, offering “When they go low, we go high” as a motto. On election night, she is optimistic that Hillary, with a polling lead, will win. The Obamas and their staff are dismayed when Trump wins, but Michelle takes comfort in all the things accomplished over the last eight years. For her, the multiracial cast of Hamilton, a new musical about America’s founding, illustrates how far the country has come.

Summary: Epilogue

Leaving the White House is painful for the Obama family, as they say goodbye to the many people who have looked after them for the last eight years. At Trump’s inauguration, Michelle sees the new president’s overwhelmingly white and male assembly of guests and, after a while, stops trying to smile. She does not plan to run for office. She is still in the process of becoming what she will be next, and she takes hope from all the things she and Barack have accomplished over the previous eight years.

Analysis: Chapters 23 & 24 & Epilogue

As Barack moves into a second term as president, in the wake of several American tragedies including multiple mass shootings, Michelle remains dedicated to promoting education as a vehicle for change. When Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton is killed in an act of gang violence, Michelle steps up to support her family and talk to her classmates about the underlying issues. Her message is grim but also contains hope: Politicians aren’t working to fix gun violence issues, but you are already empowered to overcome them; education is your way forward. Michelle also works with Barack on international efforts to create opportunities for girls who have little to no access to education and uses her position as First Lady to bring larger social awareness to their need for greater support. For her annual commencement speeches, she focuses on schools with underprivileged and at-risk student populations and attempts to uplift them by making them feel seen as important citizens with much to offer. Michelle continues to present her own story as an example of the heights that can be achieved through education and perseverance under any circumstances.   

In these final chapters, Michelle summons a new call for dignity as she speaks out against the racism and misogyny that permeate the media during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign for the 2016 presidency. She describes the rhetoric of Republican opponent Donald Trump as demeaning to people of color, contemptuous against prisoners of war, and dangerously misogynistic. Michelle reminds voters that the country is not in a “post-racial” era but that there is still hope to overcome the racial and gender marginalization that still exist. She calls for dignity not only as a tie to the core beliefs that have allowed Americans to persevere through hardships but also as a way to pave the future every day. During the transfer of power from the Obamas to the Trumps, Michelle and Barack make good on their promise for a peaceful and dignified transition. Obama’s final message in the book is one of optimism over cynicism or fear and hope that the grace and dignity of Americans will lead to a more unified nation.