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On Campus

Michelle Obama Hosts Schoolchildren in Mini-Olympics

By Mike Unger

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama came to AU’s Bender Arena for a mini-Olympic competition as part of Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative. (Photo: Jeff Watts)

First Lady Michelle Obama will lead the U.S. delegation to the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London, she announced March 13 at American University.

Obama and her guest, Samantha Cameron, wife of British prime minister David Cameron, came to AU’s Bender Arena for a mini-Olympic competition as part of Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative.

“This is why we’re here today,” Obama told 60 schoolchildren from Washington, Maryland, and Virginia. “The true spirit of the games isn’t just confined to the two weeks of competition in the summer. It’s not just about who wins the gold or which country wins the most medals. Instead the Olympic Games are about commitment, determination, and most importantly, teamwork. The games are about finding our inner strength.”

Obama was joined by members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams, who led the students in activities including basketball, tennis, and running. That she chose AU to stage the event, which was closed to the public, was a sign of the esteem in which she holds the university, said Anita McBride, executive in residence at the School of Public Affairs and former chief of staff for First Lady Laura Bush.

“I think it’s certainly wonderful when the president and first lady of the United States visit,” McBride said. “To come to AU shows our important presence here in Washington. The fact that they’d extend a further honor by bringing such an important international guest underscores the important role this university plays not only in the Washington community but the global community.

“There are a lot of reasons to pick American. The president came in 2010 to deliver a major foreign policy speech at the School of International Service, and the first lady is aware of the university’s grounds as an arboretum and all the work we do to maintain such a beautiful campus.”

Obama brought with her a gift that will add to the AU aesthetic. After the event she presented McBride with a seedling from the Jackson magnolia tree located near the south portico on the White House grounds. The tree was planted by President Andrew Jackson in honor of his wife Rachel, who died shortly before moving to the White House.

The AU president’s office will work with the AU Arboretum staff to decide where and when it will be planted on campus.

The tree will be a living reminder of Obama’s visit for years to come, but the message throughout the mini-Olympics was clear: keep moving.

“I was very proud to represent my country and wear the red white and blue as I’m sure all of these Olympians and Paralympians would agree,” said basketball star Lisa Leslie, one of eight highly accomplished athletes who led the activities. “It was pretty cool to bring home four gold medals, which took 16 years to do. But it’s really important for all of you to know you do not have to be an Olympian to be active and to eat healthy. It’s very important for everyone to live a healthy lifestyle. Whether you play sports or not, we’re really encouraging you to do that with ‘Let’s Move!’”

The first lady launched “Let’s Move!” to solve the problem of obesity within a generation. Its five pillars are:

  • creating a healthy start for children
  • empowering parents and caregivers
  • providing healthy food in schools
  • improving access to healthy, affordable foods
  • increasing physical activity

“These games are about inspiring you guys to move,” Obama told the kids. “That’s what I want you all to do with ‘Let’s Move!’ You guys know that ‘Let’s Move!’ is about ensuring young people like you guys get up and get moving. We want to use these games as a way to jump start people into moving. As Lisa said moving isn’t just being part of a sport. Moving can be dancing in the living room, it can be riding your bike, it can be walking your dog.

“That’s what’s so beautiful about these games,” she said. “They don’t just allow us to marvel at the skills and achievements of the world’s greatest athletes. They help us all dream bigger.”