Another Obama (Michelle) drives interest

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • December 17, 2008 @ 12:00 PM

A Dolphin is going to the White House.

Since Barack Obama’s election as president in November, the city has been buzzing with possibilities.

Will Obama truly be the president of change? Will he help education? Will he boost the chances of Chicago getting the Summer Olympics in 2016?

However, at Whitney Young Magnet High School, the buzz is about one of its alums, Michelle Obama, who is about to become the First Lady. 

“We are so unbelievably proud to have Michelle as First Lady of the United States,“ says Rufus Williams, Chicago Board of Education president. “I don’t think we should minimize the moment.”

One day after the election, a photo of Michelle Obama (Michelle Robinson back then), a 1981 graduate who was senior class treasurer, appeared on the school‘s website.

Mark Grishaber, an assistant superintendent at Young, says he has received multiple calls from people claiming to have attended Young during those years and saying they lost their yearbook. There have been so many calls and inquiries at Young High School that yearbooks from the Michelle years have been locked up in a safe; otherwise, school officials fear they‘ll wind up on Ebay (more than 100 Michelle Obama-related items already are).

Michelle Obama‘s strong ties with Young High School became evident to Williams during a conversation with her at a benefit basketball tournament Barack Obama was involved with some time ago.

"'Michelle, I didn’t know you went to Whitney Young,'" says Williams, recalling the conversation.

“Her response was, ‘I will always be a Dolphin.' "

Michelle Obama’s connection to Young High School is not lost among students currently at Young.

“We definitely all talk about it. Just to be going to the same school, walking the same halls, as she went to,” says Marcus Jordan, a senior starter for Young’s basketball team and the son of former Bulls star Michael Jordan. “It’s just a great thing, that she’s the First Lady now.”

Says Grishaber: “We’re especially proud, but I think Chicago is especially proud.”

While Michelle Obama’s fashion statements have been widely talked about, it is her schooling and law work that make her one of the most educated First Ladies in history. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She has worked for Sidley Austin (where she first met Barack), one of the world‘s Top-10 law firms.

Michelle Obama also served on Mayor Richard M. Daley‘s staff and as a former associate dean at the University of Chicago. She is currently a vice president at the University of Chicago Hospitals.

 “Michelle is a Harvard-trained attorney,” Williams says. “Michelle is unbelievably capable and exceptionally bright.”

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.