Michelle Obama opened by telling the enthusiastic crowd: "I'm back! This is what back looks like"

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Michelle ObamaSchool Counselor of the YearCredit: Chuck Kennedy
Credit: Chuck Kennedy

The former first lady gave her first major speech since leaving office on Friday, appearing at the Kennedy Center for the School Counselor of the Year ceremony, a collaboration between the American School Counselor Association and part of Obama’s Reach Higher initiative for higher education.

Obama opened by telling the enthusiastic crowd: “I’m back! This is what back looks like.”

Obama started on a positive note, telling the audience of counselors and educators how inspired by and grateful she was to them for “transforming the lives of young people across the country.” But the former first lady went on to bemoan the bad behavior currently being “modeled in public life” that makes educators’ jobs all the more challenging.

“Trust me, I know this work isn’t easy, especially right now,” Obama said. “I know there’s a lot of anxiety out there. And there’s no denying our kids, what they see on TV, the kind of behavior being modeled in public life, that, yes impacts their behavior and their character.”

“But at times like this, the work that you all are doing is even more urgent. Even more critically important. You all have the power to teach kids what it means to go high when others go low,” Obama continued, echoing her famous words from her 2016 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

After giving remarks, Obama presented the 2018 ASCA School Counselor of the Year award to Kirsten Perry.

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True to form, the former first lady did not mention President Trump’s name during Friday’s ceremony. But she made similar comments about the current state of American politics on The Ellen Show on Thursday, in her first televised appearance since leaving office.

Asked by a “frightened” Ellen DeGeneres for advice on how to cope in what she sees as a “very scary” world right now, Obama acknowledged that some Americans are “afraid” about the direction of the country, and encouraged people to continue to “love each other, to take care of each other, to show empathy” — no matter how hard it may be at times.

“Let’s just keep living our lives like that every single day and forget what they’re saying in Washington,” Obama said. “That’s not necessarily who we are. We know who we are and I know who this country is.”