Michelle Obama’s close encounters with Elmo, Big Bird and U.S. diplomats

May 6, 2009

Michelle ObamaU.S. first lady Michelle Obama told an audience at the U.S. mission to the United Nations that she was “thrilled” to be back in New York for the first time since her husband Barack Obama became the 44th U.S. president in January. But she said some things are even more exciting than addressing an audience of 150 U.S. diplomats, military advisers and other government officials.

“I’m thrilled to be here but I was just at ‘Sesame Street’, I’m sorry,” she said, referring to the long-running U.S. children’s television program. “I never thought I’d be on ‘Sesame Street’ with Elmo and Big Bird and I was thrilled. I’m still thrilled. I’m on a high. I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve done so far in the White House.”

One of the biggest rounds of applause during the first lady’s 20-minute appearance at the U.S. mission in midtown Manhattan came when she read a letter the son of one of the mission staffers, Scott Turner, recently sent to the president.  According to Michelle Obama, Turner’s son Jack, a first grader,  wrote to the president:

“Dear Mr. Obama – Can you move to New York? Because people like you in New York. I will help you come to New York and people are doing bad stuff in New York. I will help you get the bad people and when I catch the bad people I will put them in jail. That’s why I want you to move to  New York. From Jack.”

The first lady said she had already found a job for Jack: “Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have identified the new future New York Police Commissioner. Jack is on the case.”

Michelle Obama also thanked a group of 40 employees of the U.S. mission in the audience who have been working for the U.S. government for more than 20 years. One of them, Ivan Ferber, has been with the U.S. mission for 47 years, which she said is “longer than I’ve been alive.”

In sharp contrast to the administration of former President George W. Bush, whose officials were often dismissive and critical of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations, Michelle Obama emphasized that the new administration felt it was vitally important to work with allies.

“As the president has said, the United States is pursuing a new era of engagement when it comes to advancing America’s interests around the world,” she said. “This new policy recognizes that the fact that America’s future is intricately linked to the rest of the world, that the threats facing the global community know no borders and no single country can tackle them alone. We’ve learned this again with the recent
outbreak of the H1N1 virus.”

The first lady also spoke about the important tasks facing U.S. diplomats working with the United Nations to bring aid to the developing world. “Your work links the world to America and American ideals that are beacons of hope for millions of people,” she said.

“The young boy who’s forced to carry a rifle and become a child soldier — he’s counting on you,” she said. “The girl locked out of the schoolhouse or attacked because she had the audacity to want to learn to read or write — she’s counting on you. The mother walking hours each day to find clean water for her children — she’s counting on you. And the father who leaves his family for months or years on end in search of work — he’s counting on you as well.”

The first lady suggested that she, too, might want to get involved in working with poorer countries around the world, but she did not provide any specifics.

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