Commentary: President Barack Obama's mentor reflects

When Barack Obama took the oath of office to become the next President of the United States on Jan. 20, 2009, millions of people around the nation and around the world were overwhelmed with joy and pride.

As I sat on the mall in Washington, D.C., and saw Michelle Obama holding the same Bible that President Abraham Lincoln used during his swearing-in ceremony and listen to Barack Obama accept this new challenge in his life, I view it as a fitting tribute to one of my great students and a remarkable public servant.

I suspect that tears of joy flowed among the millions gathered on the mall in Washington and among those witnessing this event around the world. I have deceived myself by imagining that my response would be stoic and reflective.

My better judgment, however, suggests that I too will find it impossible to ignore the enormous emotional reaction to this unparallel moment in American political history. I find it hard to believe that my former students – Barack and Michelle Obama – are now the President and the First Lady. I met Michelle in 1985 and Barack in 1988, and this journey has had many sweet victories and a few bitter defeats, but nothing will match the joy of being a kid born and raised in Merced finding himself 56 years later serving as a senior adviser and mentor to the President of the United States of America.

Both Michelle and Barack Obama were exceptionally gifted students at Harvard Law School. I met Michelle in 1985 when I began teaching on a full-time basis at Harvard Law School, and she was a first-year law student. Based upon her intelligence, drive, warm personality and deep conviction to spend her legal career in pursuit of public service, I imagined then that she would become the first African-American woman to serve in the United States Senate. Michelle was a serious student in the classroom and also volunteered hundreds of hours as a student attorney in Massachusetts legal hearings, representing poor clients in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

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