Written by Ed Lengel
Barack Hussein Obama II, forty-fourth President of the United States, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on August 4, 1961. His father was born in Kenya, and his mother–in Wichita, Kansas; they divorced in 1964; she then remarried, and Barack went to live with her and his stepfather in Indonesia. After returning to Hawaii, he completed high school, studied at Occidental College, graduated from Columbia University in 1983, and received his law degree from Harvard.
Obama became a civil rights attorney in Chicago, while also teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School.
Obama’s political rise was meteoric. In 1997 he began the first of three terms representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate; in 2004 he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Highly touted from the beginning as a possible presidential candidate, Obama ran for that office in 2008 alongside Delaware Senator Joe Biden and defeated Republican Senator John McCain to win the presidency. During his two presidential terms–2009 to 2017—Obama was confronted with a series of crises in the Middle East, while he was also working to fashion a new system of national health care.
In 1989 Obama met Michelle Robinson, who had graduated a year earlier from Harvard Law School, and had just begun a career as an attorney. They married in 1992, after which she transitioned away from law to work in academe and for nonprofits, while also raising their two children and–eventually,–becoming First Lady. Michelle Obama has traveled widely as a highly articulate public speaker; she has also authored two books.
Malia Ann Obama
Born at the University of Chicago Medical Center on July 4, 1998, Malia Obama lived and attended school in Chicago. But Washington, D.C., became a second home after her father started his service in the Senate in January 2005. After he took the oath of office, and the family met with Vice President Dick Cheney and others, Malia asked her father: “Are you going to try to be president? Shouldn’t you try to be vice president first?” Within a short time, she and her younger sister were accompanying her parents on the campaign trail, as he did indeed seek, and win, the presidency. Although she enjoyed reading Harry Potter books with her father, Malia understood his busy schedule. “When Daddy has time, we’ll finish,” she said. “This isn’t a race.”
With Barack Obama’s first term as president beginning in January 2009, Malia and her sister were enrolled in Sidwell Friends School, which had educated many presidential children from the past. Unlike previous progeny, however, the media largely left them in peace–with a few exceptions– when reports spread in 2012 that Malia was “spreading her social wings” and that “it is giving President Barack Obama hives to see his oldest daughter leave the White House all dolled up for a dance or a party,” for example. As her high school education proceeded, Malia showed a particular interest in television writing, interning in New York City before her 2016 graduation. She then took a “gap year” to travel around South America before starting Harvard University in the fall of 2017. Approaching graduation, she has already begun work as a writer on a television project.
Born on June 10, 2001 in the University of Chicago Medical Center, the youngest Obama daughter, known as Sasha, was at age seven the youngest child to live in the White House since John F. Kennedy became president in 1961. The 2008 presidential campaign passed in a blur of experiences for the young girl, such as when she and her father played games at the Iowa State Fair under scrutiny from reporters who recorded their every word–and even–who was better with a water pistol. Much like her sister, Sasha took “piano, tennis, gymnastics and tap lessons,” as the two girls entered Sidwell Friends School in 2009.
For most of her teenage years, Sasha Obama was able to slip even further under the media radar screen than her sister; reports generally mentioned them in one breath, with Sasha coming second. Aside from some information about how Sasha wore her older sister’s hand-me-down dress on election night 2012, for example, information about her activities was only occasional, causing some gossip columnists to gripe about the absence of scandal in the Obama family. As she grew, Sasha was dubbed a “budding style icon,” with her fashion choices highlighted and dissected by various publications. “She drew notice when she sported Dr. Martens boots at last year’s turkey pardoning ceremony, and a whimsical unicorn sweater she wore to a recent basketball game with her parents sold out within hours.” In 2019 she made news for breaking with the family’s Ivy League tradition by electing to go to the University of Michigan. 
 New York Times, Dec. 23, 2006; Aug. 26, 2007.
 Associated Press, January 4, 2009; Baltimore Sun, Feb. 17, 2012; New York Times, May 1, 2016; Washingtonian, Feb. 18, 2021.
 Associated Press, Jan. 2, 2008; Centre Daily Times, Jan. 3, 2009.
 Atlanta Constitution, Nov. 19, 2012; Washington Post, Jan. 2, 2014; Detroit News, Aug. 28, 2019; People, Nov. 24, 2020.
Ed Lengel is the Chief Historian at the National Medal of Honor Museum; Arlington, Texas