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Diana Pearl
January 17, 2017 06:13 PM

Tuesday marks First Lady Michelle Obama‘s 53rd birthday — and her final one in office. In honor of the milestone, we’ve rounded up some of her most powerful and inspiring quotes from the past eight years.

1. On individual importance:
“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”

On a visit to South Africa in 2011

2. On the future of America’s young people:
“For all the young people in this room and those who are watching, know that this country belongs to you—to all of you, from every background and walk of life. If you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition — the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas, generation after generation, that has made us the greatest country on earth.”

From her final speech as first lady in January 2017

3. On measuring success:
“Success is only meaningful and enjoyable if it feels like your own.”

— From her 2012 commencement speech at Oregon State University

4. On being your own role model:
“If we want maturity, we have to be mature. If we want a nation that feels hopeful, then we have to speak in hopeful terms. We have to model what we want.”

— From her final interview as first lady with Oprah Winfrey in December 2016

5. On the power of education:
“I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong. So don’t be afraid. You hear me, young people? Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope, never fear.”

From her final speech as first lady in January 2017 

6. On overcoming fear:
“I am so tired of fear. And I don’t want my girls to live in a country, in a world, based on fear.”

At a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 2008

7. On helping others:
“I will always be engaged in some way in public service and public life. The minute I left my corporate law firm to work for the city, I never looked back. I’ve always felt very alive using my gifts and talents to help other people. I sleep better at night. I’m happier.”

— From an interview with Vogue for their December 2016 issue

8. On being true to yourself:

“One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals.”

— From a 2008 interview with Marie Claire

9. On being the bigger person:
“When they go low, we go high.”

— From a speech given at the 2016 Democratic National Convention

10. On the importance of empowering women:
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens.”

— At the Summit of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders in July 2014

11. On what it means to be a leader:
“I know that true leadership — leadership that lifts families, leadership that sustains communities and transforms nations — that kind of leadership rarely starts in palaces or parliaments. That kind of leadership is not limited only to those of a certain age or status. And that kind of leadership is not just about dramatic events that change the course of history in an instant. Instead, true leadership often happens with the smallest acts, in the most unexpected places, by the most unlikely individuals.”

— At the Young African Women Leaders Forum in June 2011

12. On giving back:
“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back.”

— At a meeting with the 2013-2014 White House Fellows in September 2012

13. On possibility and opportunity:
“This time, we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming. How this time, in this great country — where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House – we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be.”

— During a speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention

14. On what to look for in a partner:
“Don’t look at the bankbook or the title. Look at the heart. Look at the soul. Look at how the guy treats his mother and what he says about women. How he acts with children he doesn’t know. And, more important, how does he treat you? When you’re dating a man, you should always feel good.”

— From an interview with Glamour in 2009

15. On the importance of humor:
“What I have never been afraid of is to be a little silly, and you can engage people that way. My view is, first you get them to laugh, then you get them to listen. So I’m always game for a good joke, and I’m not so formal in this role. There’s very little that we can’t do that people wouldn’t appreciate.”

— From an interview with Variety in August 2016

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