CHICAGO – Sharing stories about growing up on the city’s South Side, first lady Michelle Obama doled out advice and praise to Chicago high school graduates Thursday as a way to boost a career training program run by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s wife.
Obama addressed the dozens of Chicago teenagers who have received vocational training, including paid internships at big Chicago-area companies and tips on how to dress, through Urban Alliance. Emanuel’s wife, Amy Rule, has spearheaded the Washington-based program’s first year in Chicago.
The program targets students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and plans are under way to expand participation from roughly 70 students to 150.
Obama, Rule and Emanuel, the president’s former White House chief of staff, only took brief questions students before the event was closed to the media. All of the students will be pursuing higher education in the fall.
One teen asked Obama how to keep up confidence.
“You have so much more to contribute than you think. Your perspective on life is different from your classmates. Your observations, your judgment will be different and maybe better. You don’t want to suffocate that voice,” she said. “Embrace your background.”
Another teen credited the program with teaching him the importance of being on time. To which, Obama shouted: “Preach!”
The quick trip to Chicago – one of a handful Obama has made this year – included an outing with her two daughters to a Beyoncé concert Wednesday. She told the students that there was another benefit, too: A chance to sleep in her own bed.
It was an unusually high-profile appearance for Rule, who’s maintained a more low-key role since her husband took office in 2011. In fact, some of the students in the program initially didn’t realize Rule’s connection to the mayor. She gave her first public interviews in December, revealing her work on Urban Alliance over the months.
“This is a really big day in the Emanuel house,” the mayor joked at the event. “Because Urban Alliance is no longer on our dining room table.”