Michelle Obama is so much more than just a “first lady.”
The lawyer, writer, mom of two, and community organizer has spent her life trying to lift people out of poverty and engage them with social issues, from Harvard Law School to Chicago City Hall to the University of Chicago, where she worked before the Obamas moved to Washington.
But when Obama became the first African American first lady of the United States, she elevated that community-focused work to the entire nation, and has spent eight years trying to ensure that all American children and families have better access to education, healthy food, exercise, and economic and educational opportunities, and that women and girls around the world have an equal chance at success and happiness.
Besides, let’s not forget just how cool she was that entire time (as if you needed an excuse to rewatch her dance to Beyonce on Carpool Karaoke).
As we prepare to say goodbye to one of the best first ladies of all time (is there such a thing as FLOTUS emeritus?), let’s take a look at the legacy of the great Michelle Obama:
The White House Kitchen Garden
In 2009, shortly after the Obamas moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Michelle dug up the lawn and planted a vegetable garden. With the creation of the White House Kitchen Garden, Obama made gardening — and vegetables — cool again.
The Let’s Move campaign launched in 2010, with Obama stressing the importance of exercise and movement for kids and families in her quest to end the childhood obesity epidemic in America within a single generation. She brought together community leaders, educators, students, and even Jimmy Fallon (and her dance moves) to shine a light on exercise and healthy eating.
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act
The passage of a new national school lunch program in 2010 ensures that 21 million low-income kids could get free or reduced price healthy lunches at their public school cafeterias, a major improvement over the cheap lunch alternatives previously available — including pizza, chips, and soda. Obama also spearheaded new nutritional guidelines for lunches so that cafeteries served more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, arguing that kids who had at least one healthy, nutritious meal a day would be able to achieve more in school, helping to close the achievement gap.
Obama worked with dozens of corporate partners including Walgreens and Walmart as well as regional grocery stores to expand into low-income communities with limited access to healthy food.
MyPlate and MiPlato
The first lady kicked the nation's old "food pyramid" to the curb and a announced a new food icon grid to help parents make healthier choices for families. MyPlate, the name of the icon, divvies up a plate into a large area for vegetables, followed by grains, protein, and fruit, with a side serving of dairy. She also introduced new nutrition labels for foods, including soft drinks, requiring that calories be prominently displayed.
In 2011, the first lady teamed up with the second lady, Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, to launch a robust support program for veterans, service members, and their families to increase their access to wellness, education, and employment opportunities.
Reach Higher Initiative
Michelle Obama is always encouraging America’s youth to aim higher, and with the creation of this program in 2014 she and her husband put resources behind encouraging high school students to continue their education after graduation, either at career training programs, community college, or universities. The program helped guide students toward financial aid programs, academic planning, and career opportunities. And to promote it, she rapped on the White House lawn.
Let Girls Learn
Launched in 2015, this hallmark program created by Michelle and Barack Obama focused on helping girls around the world go to school and stay in school. The program brings together the State Department, USAID, the Peace Corps,and a host of other government departments to create and expand programs in other countries that help provide girls access to education.
In 2016, the first lady traveled to Liberia and Morocco with Freida Pinto and Meryl Streep to meet with some of the girls benefitting from the Let Girls Learn Initiative.
Let First Ladies Dance
Okay, this wasn’t a formal initiative launched by either of the Obamas, but the dancing by Michelle and her husband over the past years has brought this country a lot of joy, and exemplified the way Michelle approached her challenging task as first lady: with a smile and an amazing sense of humor.