Former First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at Frank Erwin Center


AUSTIN (KXAN) – Former First Lady Michelle Obama was in Austin Thursday to promote her memoir, “Becoming” on her book tour. Her tour has had a frenzied following, resulting in packed stadiums across the country, with Austin following that trend. 

During her sold-out talk Thursday night at the Frank Erwin Center — hosted by celebrity chef and talk show host Rachael Ray — Obama discussed how her modest upbringing helped shaped her:

“When you live in a home with love and kindness and music and laughter — you feel rich. And my family, we felt rich. Rich has nothing to do with your bank account. But then you get out in the world and you start seeing just how far behind you are. How you’re expected to play your songs on imperfect pianos. Not even knowing that perfect pianos exist.”  

She talked with Ray about everything from education, to relationships, to parenting, to exercise, to gardening (no, there’s no garden yet in her post-White House home). 

“You guys in Austin you have it going on,” she said. 

Obama and Ray talked about the sudden transformation her life took after her husband was sworn into the presidency. When her husband’s presidential duties kept him continually running late, she explained she started having a set schedule for her and her daughters, whether or not her husband joined in. 

“I would think, what message does that send to these young women in the house, that they were waiting?” she said. “So I started telling him, this is when we eat dinner this is when we have bedtime.” 

Obama also talked about the last time she and her husband boarded Air Force One.

“I sobbed for like 30 minutes,” she recalled. “That day was hard for so many reasons. Getting on that plane, I was finally able to release how hard that journey was.”

The audience at the Erwin Center stood up in applause.

She responded to a question from Twitter, asking what she thought she’d be doing in ten years. Someone in the audience shouted out, suggesting she’d run for president.

Obama shook her head, “Nope, nope, nope.”  

“It’s not us occupying the same seats, it’s making room,” she said, adding that she and her husband would like to work to be working in a decade to empower the next generation of leaders

Obama explained she wrote her book in hopes of inspiring others to share their stories. 

“There’s context to everyone’s pain and hurt, you just can’t say they’re good or bad,” she reflected. “Be open to their story and tolerant of their context.”

Before she parted the Erwin Center, she encouraged attendees to look for the best in their fellow Americans. 

“Our job is not to let other people make us strangers to one another,” she said. 

Earlier in the day, Obama spent the afternoon in an armchair chatting with YouTube creators John Green, Jouelzy, Ariel Bissett, Kat O’Keeffe, Jesse George and Franchesca Ramsey.

The filmed book club-style chat highlighted her memoir and journey while writing the book as the first part of a YouTube original series called “BookTube.” The series will debut next month during Women’s History Month. BookTubers refer to YouTube creators who make videos about books or have book-themes. 

Part of the reason Obama says was so comfortable laying out her story — warts and all — in her book was due to her parents. 

“With sheer love and security, they made us feel that our voice mattered and so I grew up proud of my story, not ashamed of it,” she said. “And a lot of people were taught those blemishes… shhh.. no… don’t talk about that.” 

She said her parents made Obama and her brother feel safe and comfortable with who they were. 

“As an adult, I realize that that was a rare gift that they gave us,” she said.  

Known for her sweeping philosophical statements delivered with a hard dose of pragmatism, Obama had some life advice for the young YouTubers about dealing with negativity and hate. 

“The hate that we see is happening because we don’t know each other and we’re not letting each other in,” she told them. “What we do in this country with race and with gender, with the outside, is that we term those people into something else because we don’t know them.” 

She suggests that in the age of social media, if the negativity becomes too much to bear, people should just “turn it off.” 

“You choose the reality that you want to live in,” she told them. “You cannot read the comments section!” 

 For the people not in the room for the BookTube discussion, Obama asked fans to ask questions on Twitter with #BookTube so she could answer them. 

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