Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was born on January 17, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois, to Fraser Robinson III, a city water plant employee and Democratic precinct captain, and Marian (née Shields), a secretary at Spiegel's catalog store. Her mother was a full-time homemaker until Michelle entered high school. The Robinson and Shields families can trace their roots to pre-Civil War African Americans in the American South. Specifically, her roots can be traced to the Gullah people from South Carolina's Lowcountry region. Her paternal great-great grandfather, Jim Robinson, was an American slave in the state of South Carolina, where some of her paternal family still reside. Her maternal great-great-great grandmother, Melvinia Shields, also a slave, became pregnant by a white man. His name and the nature of their union have been lost. She gave birth to Michelle's biracial maternal great-great grandfather, Dolphus T. Shields.
Michelle grew up in a two-story house on Euclid Street in Chicago's South Shore community area. Her parents rented a small apartment on the house's second floor from her great-aunt, who lived downstairs. She was raised in what she describes as a "conventional" home, with "the mother at home, the father works, you have dinner around the table". The family entertained together by playing games such as Monopoly and by reading. They attended services at nearby South Shore Methodist Church. The Robinsons used to vacation in a rustic cabin in White Cloud, Michigan. She and her brother, Craig (who is 21 months older), skipped the second grade. By sixth grade, Michelle joined a gifted class at Bryn Mawr Elementary School (later renamed Bouchet Academy).
She attended Whitney Young High School, Chicago's first magnet high school, where she was a classmate of Jesse Jackson's daughter Santita. The round trip commute from the Robinsons' South Side home to the Near West Side, where the school was located, took three hours. She was on the honor roll for four years, took advanced placement classes, a member of the National Honor Society and served as student council treasurer. Obama graduated in 1981 as the salutatorian of her class.
Michelle was inspired to follow her brother to Princeton University; he graduated in 1983. At Princeton, she challenged the teaching methodology for French because she felt that it should be more conversational. As part of her requirements for graduation, she wrote a thesis entitled "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community." "I remember being shocked," she says, "by college students who drove BMWs. I didn't even know parents who drove BMWs." While at Princeton, she got involved with the Third World Center (now known as the Carl A. Fields Center), an academic and cultural group that supported minority students, running their day care center which also included after school tutoring. Robinson majored in sociology and minored in African American studies and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1985. She earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. At Harvard she participated in demonstrations advocating the hiring of professors who were members of minorities and worked for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, assisting low-income tenants with housing cases. She is the third First Lady with a postgraduate degree, after her two immediate predecessors, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush. In July 2008, Obama accepted the invitation to become an honorary member of the 100-year-old black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, which had no active undergraduate chapter at Princeton when she attended.
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