Two Broads' View: An Evening with Michelle Obama

By Laurie Hirschfeld Zeller and Kimiko McBryde | Guest Contributors

On Tuesday, July 25th, the Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO) celebrated its 30th birthday with a special guest, former first Lady Michelle Obama, in her first public appearance since leaving the White House. The two of us--Denver women, 57 and 20 years old, respectively--appreciate and admire the Women’s Foundation and Michelle Obama. We attended the event together (with 8500 others!) and sat down afterwards to talk about the evening from our different perspectives.

A Full Line-Up 

The first half of the evening featured spokespeople representing the WFCO’s past, present and future including Lt. Governor Donna Lynne, former Colorado First Lady and WFCO co-founder Dottie Lamm, rising WFCO Board of Trustees chair Stephanie Bruno, Mayor Hancock, and the current class of Girls Leadership Council’s young women leaders. While we were impatient for Ms. Obama’s entrance, we clapped hardest for Viviana Andazola Marquez, GLC class of 2012.

In a wide-ranging conversation with WFCO President Lauren Casteel, Ms. Obama talked about bringing uncomfortable things out into the open; having tough conversations about race, personal failure, and experience of violence and vulnerability. She shared a striking image of scars created by women breaking the glass ceiling.

But later, an uncomfortable giggle erupted when she mentioned the experience of menstruation, something every woman has to deal with. Did she just say that? Kimi's take: not shocked but a bit surprised a First Lady made the reference. And Laurie was raised with the notion a lady does not talk about such things.

Collective Responsibility and a Posse of Girlfriends

We both responded to the theme of collective responsibility for solving intractable public problems across races, genders, and social classes. She pointed out the theme of Barack Obama’s campaign was not “Yes He Can” but “Yes We Can.”

She stressed the importance of having a posse of girlfriends and strong women role models several times throughout the evening. Kimi was surprised by Ms. Obama’s emphasis on herself as a continuous work in progress, and someone who is still waiting to see what the universe has in store for her. As a 20-year-old, Kimi sees Ms. Obama as the epitome of the strong, powerful, wise woman. To hear she sees herself as ever growing and evolving made her appear more human.

Ms. Obama touched on the role of men in supporting women more than once: as fathers, as brothers, as employers, and as friends. Her message resonated with both of us, possibly because we have had the privilege of strong support from loving fathers in our own lives, men who valued our independence and strength.

Inspiration and Strength 

We called Lauren Casteel after the event. She told us she was surprised and pleased at Ms. Obama’s “genuine warmth, her willingness to engage, to allow the conversation to follow its natural course. She gave me permission to let it be real.” 

In a week of what feels like endless divisiveness among the country, Ms. Obama’s messages of collective strength and shared experiences resonated through the Pepsi Center in a crowd of individuals celebrating and embracing the power of the woman.

Two women of different generations are fangirls for life.

Laurie Hirschfeld Zeller is a nonprofit consultant and a former Vice President of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

Kimiko McBryde is a Denver native and a graduate of the Women's Foundation of Colorado's GLC class of 2012.  She is a history major and a rising senior at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio.