Obama portrait unveiling at the White House

Former President Barack Obama listens to his wife, Michelle, speak on Wednesday.
Former President Barack Obama listens to his wife, Michelle, speak on Wednesday. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Former first lady Michelle Obama noted the historic nature of the unveiling of the White House portraits of her and former President Barack Obama on Wednesday, using her remarks to highlight the importance of traditions, like the portrait unveiling and a peaceful transition of power, for American democracy.

“Believe it or not, it is still a bit odd for me to stand in this historic space, see this big beautiful painting staring back at me. Growing up on Euclid Avenue… I never could have imagined that any of this would be part of my story, but even if it’s all still a bit awkward for me, I do recognize why moments like these are important, why all of this is absolutely necessary. Traditions like this matter, not just for those of us who hold these positions but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy,” Obama said during a ceremony in the East Room.

She continued, “You see the people, they make their voices heard with their vote. We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power. Those of us lucky enough to serve, work, as Barack said, as hard as we can for as long as we can, as long as the people choose to keep us here. And once our time is up, we move on, and all that remains in this hallowed place are our good efforts and these portraits.”

Obama also reflected on her time as first lady and what moments like this could represent for future generations. 

“Portraits that connect our history to the present day. Portraits that hang here as history continues to be made. So for me, this day is not just about what has happened. It’s also about what could happen because a girl like me, she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolley Madison. She was never supposed to live in this house, and she definitely wasn’t supposed to serve as first lady,” Obama noted.

CNN’s Sam Fossum contributed reporting to this post.

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