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Michelle at 50: ‘More pinnacles yet to be reached’

US First Lady Michelle Obamspeaks during an event expanding college opportunity South Court Auditorium Eisenhower Executive Office Building next White

US First Lady Michelle Obama speaks during an event on expanding college opportunity in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House on January 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: February 18, 2014 6:27AM



WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama turns 50 on Friday and will celebrate with a bash at the White House starting at 9 p.m. Saturday. The invitation advises guests to wear “dancing attire,” which suggests it may be a long evening.

“I think she is embracing turning 50 with a sense of exuberance and anticipating the natural changes of life but looking forward to staying young in spirit and healthy and energized,” White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett told me.

Except for the president, Jarrett has known Mrs. Obama longer than anyone else at the White House. When Jarrett was former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s deputy chief of staff, she hired the former Michelle Robinson for a City Hall job starting on Sept. 16, 1991.

“I think she is a role model, whether you are 8 or 80, for how to embrace whatever phase in life you are in. And that’s what she is doing,” Jarrett said in a phone interview.

When President Barack Obama turned 50 on Aug. 4, 2011, he was in the midst of fundraising for his re-election bid — with Aug. 3 events at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago the night before a Rose Garden barbeque.

Mrs. Obama has the luxury of marking her 50th secure in a second term, a White House veteran with five years of the routine under her belt. Daughters Malia, 15, and Sasha, 12, long ago made the transition from Chicago as has her mother, Marian Robinson, who lives with them at the White House.

Anita McBride, former chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, said Mrs. Obama “has found her niche in the role. She does what she wants to do and not what anyone tells her she has to do.”

Mrs. Obama’s two main initiatives remain her “Let’s Move” healthy eating, exercise, anti-obesity drive and “Joining Forces,” a variety of programs designed to help the nation’s military and their families.

With no fanfare and no formal launch, Mrs. Obama is starting to pave a third road, working in partnership with the Department of Education on initiatives encouraging disadvantaged youths to attend college.

“In the coming years I’m going to be spending more and more of my time focusing on education, because as everyone here knows, education is the key to success for so many kids. And my goal specifically is to reach out directly to young people and encourage them to take charge of their futures and complete an education beyond high school,” Mrs. Obama said Thursday at the White House College Opportunity Summit she co-hosted with the president.

I asked Jarrett if Mrs. Obama’s comments were a hint as to what she will pursue in her post-presidential years, a topic she is just beginning to talk about.

“I think it is more than a hint. I think both she and the president have said that working with young people will be a part of their life, not just during his time in office,” Jarrett said. “Both of them are clear that this commitment to young people will extend way beyond the president’s presidency.”

Mrs. Obama discussed the 50 milestone and life after the White House in an interview with People Magazine.

“I will be in my early 50s when I leave here, and I have so much more that I should do,” she told People. Once Sasha is away at college, “whoa, the sky is the limit.”

Her workout is changing from emphasizing heavy cardio and weights to yoga, to build-up flexibility.

Asked if she has a philosophy on plastic surgery, Botox, fillers, Mrs. Obama replied, “Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves. Right now, I don’t imagine that I would go that route, but I’ve also learned to never say never.”

Mrs. Obama told People she has not peaked at 50. Her life is “ever-evolving.”

Said Jarrett, looking ahead, “I think she feels this is a pinnacle, but it doesn’t mean that there are not more pinnacles yet to be reached.”

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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