The Obamas may not occupy the White House anymore, but they seem to get a warm welcome wherever they go — the former first lady in particular. Well, now Michelle Obama has a nickname for herself — and the way people have approved of it so far speaks to that continued popularity of hers.
According to Philadelphia magazine, Michelle Obama attended a College Signing Day event at Temple University in Philadelphia. Nick Cannon emceed the event, as he takes part in Obama's Reach Higher Initiative, and he described his commitment to inspiring kids to go to college in a personal essay about the subject for Forbes. There, he wrote that he refers to Obama as the “Forever First Lady" — and in her speech at Temple, she embraced Cannon's nickname for her.
“I know you have everything it takes to succeed,” Obama said at the event. “I know that you are me, and if I can be standing here as your forever first lady, then you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Cannon most likely wasn't the first person to use the term, which has frequently turned up on the internet since Cannon wrote his piece in June 2017. Now that Obama herself used it, though, it's picked up steam — and both her supporters and her detractors have noticed.
The singer Ciara, for example, posted a picture of herself with Obama from the event, saying, "Forever My First Lady."
Others, however, bristled at Obama claiming that title for herself. "Imagine is [sic] Laura Bush declared herself 'America's forever First Lady' while Michelle was in the White House like Michelle just did with Melania in the White House?" wrote someone else on Twitter. "Just imagine. Disrespectful, imperious and inappropriate."
Given the current debate raging about Obama's decision to claim a title that so many have given to her, it's worth pointing out that it's not out of the ordinary to refer to officials by titles that they don't hold anymore. According to the etiquette giant the Emily Post Institute, it's entirely normal to refer to a former president as "President Obama," for example, at informal events. While, of course, the title no longer applies, it's the highest position Barack Obama has ever held — so it's simply a matter of respect to keep referring to him that way.
Michelle Obama was speaking at an informal, lively event, surrounded by excited future college students and celebrities who support her Reach Higher Initiative, which she began while she was in the White House. As the keynote speaker out of what WPVI-TV listed as a seriously star-studded lineup at the event, Obama must have been one of the main reasons why many of the people present even came to the event. The nickname, then, was a joking token of respect — which Obama returned by using it herself.
Really, though, Obama was there to encourage the soon-to-be college students to seize their opportunity at success and not be put off by the challenges along the way. “You will have some struggles, but that’s OK. See, when you hit those roadblocks, have trouble in that one class, feel like you’re falling behind ― you have to ask for help,” Obama said, according to Philadelphia magazine. “No one gets through college on their own. … Don’t be too proud to get the help you need.”
It's good advice that's not given frequently enough in a culture that values independence and self-sufficiency — but if the future college students heard it from their forever first lady, maybe they'll keep it in mind.