It’s simple, really: Michelle Obama does not want to be president, and so she is not running for president.
During a moderated conversation at Simmons College’s 39th annual leadership conference on Thursday, the former first lady discussed a litany of topics ranging from diversity to the state of American democracy—and put to rest any notion that her name will be on the ballot in 2020.
“I have never had the passion for politics,” Obama said. “I just happened to be married to somebody who has the passion for politics, and he drug me kicking and screaming into this arena. Just because I gave a good speech, and I’m smart and intelligent, doesn’t mean that I should be the next president.”
Obama emphasized the need to encourage qualified women with political drive to pursue higher office, rather than homing in on inspiring people like herself and Oprah who may have other aspirations.
The former first lady also discussed equity in higher education during the Q&A, which was moderated by Simmons president Helen Drinan. Obama, who graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, said she sometimes “felt like an affirmative action kid,” on campus. She noted that the term “affirmative action” has been twisted to take on negative connotations in some circles despite the broader ubiquity of the practice.
“When affirmative action means color, it’s deemed to be problematic,” Obama said. “I have a problem with that, because affirmative action exists everywhere throughout society. It’s called privilege.”
Obama, whose forthcoming memoir Becoming will be released in November, also emphasized the need to view diversity at the university level in a more holistic way. Simply admitting a few students of color and calling it a day isn’t enough.
“The few sprinkles are going to get lost, because it’s hard being the only one when you’re sitting in a majority class and you’re the only one fighting for your perspective,” Obama said. “Universities have a responsibility to create a diverse life. They understand that a healthy, thriving community looks like everything—not just great grades and perfect SAT scores.”
This year’s conference, which carried the theme “Disrupt the Ordinary,” also featured Gretchen Carlson. Previous Simmons Leadership Conference speakers include Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Toni Morrison, and Oprah Winfrey.
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