By Anel Ceballos-Caldera, Nov. 16, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona was one of 22 universities nationwide invited to join former first lady Michelle Obama for a livestream event discussing her New York Times bestseller “Becoming” on Nov. 9.

“Becoming: Michelle Obama in Conversation” was a virtual event hosted by “Black-ish” actress and activist Yara Shahidi. In addition to campus community being invited to join the event, CPP and fourteen other universities sent one student to Prince George’s Community College in Maryland to ask Obama a question.

Throughout the event, Obama encouraged students to engage in conversations about their goals, ambitions and struggles. Numerous students asked for Obama’s advice about taking on life’s biggest problems and concerns. Obama created a safe and inclusive space for students to be honest and open.

“It’s important for me now to hear from you, to hear what you got from it, what you took from it, what’s going on in your minds, what’s worrying you, what are you striving for,” said Obama. “So that I’m making sure that the work that I do going forward is helping you or continuing to help you in some kind of way.”

According to Obama, in 2019 she traveled to over 30 cities during her international book tour. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was not able to do the second part of her tour, where she wanted to speak at college campuses and converse with students.

Sara Catalina Carrillo, a nutrition student, was selected to represent Cal Poly Pomona and jad the opportunity to ask Obama a question. According to Carrillo, she felt warmth and hope in the room during the event and noticed how every student reciprocated the feeling.

Cal Poly Pomona sent Sara Catalina Carrillo to D.C. to attend virtual event and speak to former first lady Michelle Obama. (Courtesy of Sara Catalina Carrillo)

“It was really an honor to be there and to represent Cal Poly,” said Carrillo. “I never thought that this would happen, that I would meet Michelle Obama, but also to the conversation we had.”

Carrillo recalled how during the release of “Becoming” in 2018 she felt alone and doubtful as a first-year transfer student and having recently separated from her son’s father.

“It (the book) really feels like a conversation from a close friend,” said Carrillo. “It was kind of like her telling me ‘I went through what you’re going through and I got through it and you’re going to be fine and here’s some tools to help you get through it.’”

Although Carrillo was chosen to attend the event, it was visual communication design student Precious Chibueze, the runner-up nominee to represent the campus, whose question Carrillo posed to Obama.

The question asked Obama how she balances selflessness and self-care while continuously helping others.

“Everybody takes on selfishness in a different way and I think it is an extent of selfishness to where that’s a bad thing, but there’s always something that can come out of being selfish: doing things for you and making sure that you’re OK, making sure that you’re in the right mind,” said Chibueze. “So, I just wanted to know how that was for her and the steps that she takes to do that because you’re doing a lot already. It’s hard to take time for yourself.”

According to Obama, she watched her mother put her siblings first and never had time for herself. Obama emphasized how grateful she is for her mother for doing everything for her family, which helped her understand that parenting is her top priority.

“My most important job, my most important achievement is raising healthy, whole, empathetic, compassionate, smart, young women. I take that very seriously,” said Obama. “But in order to do that, I have to be whole and happy and have some compassion for myself or else I am not there for them, and I wanted to model something different for them.”

CPP’s First Year Experience Committee selected “Becoming” as the 2019-20 Common Read book. The Common Read, which is the largest book club on campus, originated from the FYE program. Every year a book is nominated and highly marketed throughout campus. The committee — made up of students, staff and faculty — engages in conversation and discusses the nominated book.

According to Director of Academic Support and Learning Services of the Office of Student Success Dora Lee, who oversees the Common Read program, in 2019 Lee contacted Obama’s publisher Matthew Makin in hopes that someone from Obama’s team could come on campus and speak to students, staff and faculty about the book.

In July, Makin reached out to Lee about the opportunity and invited CPP to participate in the virtual event. Faculty members nominated Carrillo and Chibueze, and each student sent their resume, wrote a short bio and an essay on their academic journey and challenges they overcame, and listed their roles served at CPP.

“It just gives you hope,” said Chibueze. “There’s different universities and colleges in California alone so to be picked or even thought of to be a part of this discussion is crazy, and I think it helps us because it inspires us.”

“Becoming: Michelle Obama in Conversation” will be televised on BET, but no date has been stated yet.

Feature image courtesy of Dora Lee


Correction: This article was edited on Nov. 18 to correct a mention of the event taking place at Howard University. The event took place at Prince George’s Community College. 

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