Montgomery College Student, Jonathan Spires, Participates in the Event: Conversation with Michelle Obama


Nida Khan

The former first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, spoke with a panel of students from 22 national colleges and universities including Montgomery College on November 9th, 2021. The conversation, which was moderated by Grown-ish actress and activist Yara Shahidi, centered around Obama’s 2018 memoir, Becoming. The book chronicles all of Obama’s defining moments, from her upbringing on the south side of Chicago, to her time as a corporate lawyer, and eventually, as a first lady in the White House.

The event occurred in person for the 22 selected speakers, who met with Obama and Shahidi in Largo, Maryland, at Prince George’s Community College. It was streamed live for an audience restricted to the participating institutions but was filmed by Black Entertainment Network to be aired later.

Among the students selected to speak with Obama was Montgomery College student Jonathan Spires. Spires is an active member of the MC community, acting as Editor-in-Chief of the MC Takoma Park/Silver Spring newspaper, The Excalibur. He is also a certified nursing assistant and biotechnology major. When selecting a student speaker, a college-wide call was put out for students to submit a statement in video or essay format for why they should be selected.Spires submitted a video, which he subtitled and provided a transcript for, and was selected. When speaking about the experience, Spires continued to show a proactive and inclusive approach to being the selected student speaker. He was given a maximum of two questions to propose for the conversation and when brainstorming what they would be, he reached out to the members of his community about what they wanted to ask Michelle Obama.

One of the questions he chose to ask was which roles and jobs would Obama suggest young people aim to occupy in order to benefit their community. According to Spires, “From her [Obama’s] perspective, it’s more profitable for you to just be excellent in whatever you choose”. Obama went on to express that while many careers are immediately important, young people should focus on careers that are important and meaningful to them. Without the passion or drive for a field, one runs the risk of burning out. Obama had a similar experience when she felt unfulfilled as a lawyer and left a high-paying position to work in community engagement.

Another question Spires asked was how to get one’s community to use the resources available to them. Obama’s view on this issue was to start out with those people immediately available to you, or your ‘kitchen table’. Your kitchen table is the group of people most important to you, the ones that you call on after every success and challenge or Friday afternoon. By focusing on influencing those people first, you can create a localized change that will extend beyond your individual efforts. Recognizing whom you include at your kitchen table is also an important lesson in relying on your support network and recognizing that you are not alone.

Spires identifies this as a key take-away from the event, to reach out to others when you need help and be there when they do. It’s the unity that underlies the diversity of life, that we are “one country, one human race … working and struggling together” as Spires said. Obama emphasized this sentiment of inclusion and support in her memoir, saying “Let’s invite one another in … there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”