By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — First lady Michelle Obama visited with young patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis on Wednesday, telling them she was inspired by their focus and courage as they battle life-threatening diseases.
Mrs. Obama was making her first visit to St. Jude as first lady, following in the footsteps of Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton. She chatted with the patients in an activity room and participated in a question and answer session.
The first lady’s plane was delayed by about 1 ½ hours due to a maintenance issue, but the children patiently waited for her, working on an art project.
St. Jude is considered a leading researcher of cancer and other life-threatening diseases that affect children. The hospital says it is working to increase the overall survival rate for childhood cancer to 90 percent in the next decade.
Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food. Celebrities pass through the hospital on a regular basis to meet with patients.
Mrs. Obama said she was invited to St. Jude by actress Marlo Thomas, whose father, actor Danny Thomas, founded St. Jude.
The first lady sat at tables with the children, some of whom had shaved heads. She asked them how they were feeling, if they were being treated well at the hospital and if they liked sports.
She then took a seat at the front of the room and took questions from the curious kids, such as what is the best place she has visited: “That’s hard. I enjoyed meeting the Pope, visiting the Vatican”; what is her favorite sports team: “I love all of the Chicago teams”; and who is her favorite musical artist: “Everybody on the planet probably knows that Stevie Wonder is my favorite artist.”
One patient asked if she would take “selfies” with them.
“I don’t like selfies, but I’m going to do selfies for you guys,” she said. The children took pictures with her after the Q&A session.
Mrs. Obama said it felt special for her to be able to meet with the kids at St. Jude.
“Sometimes, living in the White House, and being married to the president, and trying to live a life like that, it can be hard,” she said. “But when I meet you guys, I am so inspired … You all are smart and you’re focused and you’re just so courageous.”
Note: The White House transcript of the the discussion is below.
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY IN Q&A WITH PATIENTS
MRS. OBAMA: Don’t be shy. I figured out — I know you all aren’t shy. Kayla — okay. Josue.
Q Can I take a selfie with you? (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely.
Q Can I have one too?
MRS. OBAMA: We’ll all do a selfie, okay? And you know what, I am — I don’t like selfies, but I’m going to do selfies for you guys, okay? All right. Because we’ve already had a good conversation. But we’re going to do selfies.
Q Does your dog ride the plane with you?
MRS. OBAMA: No, no, they didn’t come with me today. They’re at home with Malia and Sasha. But they ride on the plane when we go on vacation. We take them on vacations with us, and they ride on the planes. And they’re good on the planes, actually. They sit in their little chairs, wait for takeoff, and then they try to get to where the food is. That’s usually the challenge on the plane — they’re trying to find the food.
Q They’re just looking for the food while you’re like, I don’t even care? (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: They just — they will leave us to go find whatever food they’re smelling. They will go to the food. They don’t care about us when there’s food around, unless we have the food.
Q What is your favorite part about being in the White House?
MRS. OBAMA: About being in the — about being First Lady is being able to do stuff like this, really. And it is so special for me to get to meet kids like you guys. Because sometimes living in the White House and being married to the President and trying to live a life like that, it can be hard. But when I meet you guys, I am so inspired, which is one of the reasons why I like to come and spend time with you guys. You all are smart, and you’re focused, and you’re just so courageous. And it’s just fun to be able — I could be here all day with you, if you haven’t noticed. (Laughter.)
So this is a cool part. But living in the White House, actually living in the White House, what’s the best part? The best part is — I like the South Lawn, I like the Truman Balcony — I was telling Austin that, that that’s one of my favorite places to be, because we can be outside and you can look over the fountain, and you see the Washington Memorial, and it’s a really pretty view. And it’s peaceful.
Q Is that selfie going to be an “ussie?”
MRS. OBAMA: Say that again.
Q Is that selfie going to be an “ussie?”
MRS. OBAMA: We will all do a selfie. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Everyone — we will do —
Q An “ussie.”
MRS. OBAMA: An “ussie.”
Q It’s called an “ussie” when it’s more than one person.
MRS. OBAMA: Whatever you guys want to do, is my point. (Laughter.) An “ussie,” a selfie, a yousie, a weesie — I don’t know. (Laughter.) I will do whatever you guys want.
Q What made you decide to come visit St. Jude?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, first of all, before I was First Lady, in my former career, I worked for a hospital. I was the vice president of community affairs for the University of Chicago Hospitals. And they had a really big children’s hospital there, the Comer Children’s Hospital. So that’s sort of my world — making sure that kids in the neighborhood I grew up with were getting the kind of care that they needed.
And I have always wanted to come to St. Jude’s. Marlo Thomas invited me to come. So it was just a matter of finding the right time, and this was a good time in my schedule to come. And so we got on a plane and popped down.
And I think it’s really good to be able to highlight the great work that’s going on here. I mean, St. Jude’s is — you guys know. You can tell the world better than anyone just how important this institution is to so many kids and families. (Applause.) So if you haven’t noticed, when I go somewhere, cameras follow. So I like to go places where — when the cameras are on, the rest of the world can see some good stuff that’s going on. So that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come.
And I get to hang out with you guys. Yes! (Laughter.)
Austin, were you raising your hand?
Q Yes. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, sir.
Q Where’s the best place you went so far?
MRS. OBAMA: The best place I’ve been anywhere ever?
MRS. OBAMA: Anywhere in the world? That’s hard. (Laughter.) That’s hard. I enjoyed meeting the Pope, visiting the Vatican. It was really cool going to a state dinner at Buckingham Palace with the Queen of England.
MRS. OBAMA: I know! (Laughter.) I also got to hang out in the beehive at a Beyoncé concert. Oh, my stars! (Laughter.) I had a fun time taping with the iCarly cast. We did a real cool skit — or a show on military families and military kids. We just did a really cool trip to China, where I got to visit schools there and talk about education.
So that’s one of the best things about being here, is that I get to do a lot of cool stuff.
Q Do you get to meet new people?
MRS. OBAMA: I get to meet lots of new people, yes. Like you guys. This is pretty cool too, wouldn’t you say? I think this is one of the cooler things I get to do. Because, see, the one thing I don’t do everywhere I go, I don’t have time to talk and answer questions — especially not in front of the press. We don’t usually do that. But when I’m with kids, I love to talk to you guys. So this is cool stuff for me.
Q What made you start coming to hospitals and doing things with the community?
MRS. OBAMA: You know, it was the work that I did in Chicago. I got to know the work of the University of Chicago Hospital, and I wanted to be a part of that. I was a lawyer first, but I wanted to do more stuff that affected the community. So I kind of worked my way into working with the medical community. And it just is kind of cool.
So I try to do stuff whenever possible. In Washington, D.C. they have a wonderful children’s hospital there; I make sure to go there at least once a year, around Christmas. And I was telling these guys over here, I take Bo and Sunny now. They get to come. And I hope that this won’t be my last visit here to St. Jude, right? Yes.
Q What’s your favorite sports team?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, that’s so hard. (Laughter.) That’s hard. Okay. I don’t think I have one right now. I don’t have a favorite team. I mean, I love all the Chicago teams. Yay, I do — the Bears, the Cubs, the Bulls, all those people. I love the Miami Heat, I love the Heat. I love players — I love LeBron James. I love — I’m not even going to start there because I’m going to get myself into trouble. (Laughter.) I’m not even going there.
Kayla says Drew Brees. He’s pretty cool, too. Yes, there are a lot of cool athletes, a lot of cool teams. What about you? Do you have a favorite team, Sam? Yes, it’s hard.
Q I like them all.
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, it’s hard — it’s hard to pick.
MRS. OBAMA: Except Austin loves the 49ers. (Laughter.) Who is your favorite player?
Q Frank Gore.
MRS. OBAMA: Okay. What about Colin Kaepernick?
Q Him too.
MRS. OBAMA: Okay. Just trying to get a plug in there for Colin. (Laughter.)
Q Did you ever think that you would marry the President?
MRS. OBAMA: No. (Laughter.) I didn’t. Because when I married him he was just Barack. (Laughter.) A lot of people were like, Barack? Who’s that? No, I didn’t.
But I knew when I married my husband that he was committed to service, some way, shape or form; that he wanted to do things in the community. And that’s one of the things I really love and — loved and love about him, is that he’s always trying to figure out how to help people. And we had that common interest — we both left the law and working in corporate firms to find ways to work in the community. So we shared that in common.
So I didn’t know he was going to be President. Actually, I tried to talk him out of it, but he didn’t listen. (Laughter.) He didn’t listen.
Q What have you loved most about being at St. Jude?
MRS. OBAMA: What have I loved most about being at St. Jude? You guys. All of you. You all are smart, you have good questions. You have great personalities. You’re outgoing. You’re funny. You’re all of that — you’re all that and a bag of chips. (Laughter.)
All right, Devon, my man. Are you ready to talk to me? (Laughter.) You got a question? What do you want to know? Take your time. (Laughter.) I know. We’ll come back.
Q What’s your favorite thing to do?
MRS. OBAMA: My favorite thing to do is to hang out with my daughters. They’re pretty cool, too. Although they’re getting kind of busy, so they don’t want to be bothered with me — which is why I have to come here and hang out with you. (Laughter.) I’m stealing your energy because my children really — they don’t even want to be around us anymore. (Laughter.) You all — are you like that? Especially you 13-year-olds. (Laughter.) Yeah. So it’s not just me. I shouldn’t take this personally. (Laughter.) All right.
Chelsea, what do you want to ask?
Q What’s your favorite holiday?
MRS. OBAMA: My favorite holiday is Christmas. Ah, Christmas. I like Thanksgiving, too, but Christmas is just everything. And the White House is decorated and we open it up to all kinds of guests and visitors.
You guys have an invitation from me to come and visit the White House, okay? When you guys — we’ll make sure that we coordinate, but all you guys, when you get well and you’re up and about, you got to come see me. Maybe you can come at Christmastime, but there are a lot of fun things like the Easter Egg Roll, Fourth of July. But you all have an open invitation — all right? Cool. (Applause.) You’re going to go! (Laughter.)
Q Do you ever feel overwhelmed being the First Lady?
MRS. OBAMA: You know, you kind of get used to the pace of it. Who would ever — I would have never thought that by now I’d say, actually, I’m kind of used to it, but you get used to it. And you learn your rhythm and you figure out how much you can do and how much you can balance.
I think in many ways I’m like any working mom. I’ve got to make sure that I do my job and that I try to do it well, but I’ve got to make sure my girls are good. They’re going to school and I’ve got an open house to go to tomorrow night, and I’ve got to make sure that –- Malia just started driving — whew! I know, that’s scary. (Laughter.) I’ve got to hang out with my husband. He needs attention, too. So it’s all a balance, just like your parents. It’s the same thing. So you just learn that rhythm. You got to do it and you’ve got to do it all well.
And I want to be a good First Lady, so I try to put as much effort into that as possible, focusing on the issues that I care about not just here in the United States but around the world, trying to make sure that for the short time we’re here that we actually do something that’s meaningful, that we’re not just hanging out at the White House.
So it keeps us busy. But what else would we be doing? (Laughter.)
All right, okay —
MODERATOR: Sebastian has been hiding.
MRS. OBAMA: Sebastian, where have you been?
Q Right there. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: You came out! All right, Sebastian.
Q What is your favorite soccer team?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. I don’t know. Who’s your favorite soccer team?
Q The Colombians.
MRS. OBAMA: Ohhh — (laughter.) Did you watch the World Cup?
MRS. OBAMA: How did they do?
Q They won five times until they needed to face Brazilian and then Brazil won.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes. We’re you disappointed?
MRS. OBAMA: You weren’t? (Laughter.)
Q It doesn’t matter.
MRS. OBAMA: This is why I love kids. (Laughter.) They just say, it wasn’t me. (Laughter.) Like, I was fine. (Laughter.)
Well, thank you for that question, Sebastian.
Tyler, do you have another question?
Q When you first got your dogs were they puppies?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, Bo was — he was five months, so he was an older puppy. And Sunny was already like 12 months. So they weren’t itty-bitty puppies.
Q But they were little?
MRS. OBAMA: They were sort of little, yes. Do you have a pet, Tyler?
MRS. OBAMA: What do you have?
Q A chocolate lab.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh! Is he big? Is he a puppy?
Q It’s a girl and she is (inaudible) puppy.
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah? Did you just get her?
Q No, we got her a couple years — like a few months ago.
MRS. OBAMA: Uh-huh. Do you like her?
Q Yes. And I got fish.
MRS. OBAMA: And fish! (Laughter.)
Q One of the fish kept on having babies like crazy.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. (Laughter.)
What, Mom? We are learning so much from Tyler. (Laughter.) You are so red right now. (Laughter.) But it’s all good. It’s all good.
Okay, Devon, you ready? Got another?
Q Do the White House have a secret stash? (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: A secret stash of what? (Laughter.) A secret stash of what? I’m going to have you clarify that. (Laughter.) Just a secret place, secret places of stuff? Well, if I told you then it wouldn’t be a secret. (Laughter.) That’s highly classified information. (Laughter.) Here, come here, I’ll whisper to you. All right, you can tell the others once the cameras are gone. (Laughter.) But it’s highly classified information.
All right, Austin.
Q Can I go to the White House?
MRS. OBAMA: Where are your parents? All right. Austin is ready to leave you and come with me.
PARENT: That’s not going to work tonight. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Your mom said not tonight. All right. Maybe some other time.
Kayla? Where’s — your children are ready to leave you now.
PARENT: Maybe an hour.
MRS. OBAMA: She’s like, you can get her ready in an hour. (Laughter.) Well, maybe we’ll work on coordinating these visits a little more.
All right, Sebastian.
Q What is your favorite place that you go?
MRS. OBAMA: That I go every day?
Q I said, what’s the —
MRS. OBAMA: I know, I know. I’m slow. (Laughter.) I’m slow.
Q How many places have you visited? That’s what I was wondering.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, hundreds and hundreds of places. Hundreds. Hundreds of different countries. Hundreds — I’ve been to probably almost every state in the United States — almost. Have I?
STAFF: We landed in Alaska.
MRS. OBAMA: We landed in Alaska. So, yes, I’ve been to every state in the United States.
MRS. OBAMA: Breanna?
Q What is your favorite vacation?
MRS. OBAMA: Hawaii. Yeah. (Laughter.) Yeah, that’s where we go on Christmas, because that’s where the President grew up, so he still has his family there. We’ve been going there every year since we started dating.
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, so that’s our family tradition. So it’s really beautiful and it’s relaxing.
Q I’m thinking about going there.
MRS. OBAMA: You’re thinking about going? When? When are you going to go? And does your mom know? (Laughter.) It would be great. It would be great. You would love it.
Q I’m going next year.
MRS. OBAMA: You’re going next year?
Q To visit grandparents.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, excellent. That’s cool. You’re going to have a ball. You’re going to have a ball.
Okay, Sunny, then Courtney.
Q Which dog do you like better? Bo or Sunny?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, I like them both equally. They could be listening. (Laughter.) Sunny — I couldn’t pick between them. That would be terrible. They’re smart. They would know. And then I’d come home and one would be like, you were at St. Jude and you picked the other one. (Laughter.) I couldn’t. I love them both.
Q How did you meet the President? Well, how did you all, like, meet?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, you want to know how we met? (Laughter.) Okay, let me think about this. It’s been a while. We met actually when we were both — I had finished law school, I was working in a law firm, and the President was just in law school. And when you work at a firm, they do these summer internship programs, and the President was an intern and I was his summer advisor.
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah. So I was the first person he met when he started at the firm that summer. And we were friends. We didn’t date right away. But then later on in the summer he asked me out. Good question.
Q Who do you like to prank the most?
MRS. OBAMA: Prank the most? Oh, the President. (Laughter.) We love to scare each other. Malia and Sasha, they always try to scare us. They’re real bad at it, too, because they’re loud. You can give them tips? There’s a lot of scaring going on.
Q What about pouring water on their heads?
MRS. OBAMA: I’ll try that when I get home. (Laughter.)
Q Find a water bucket, and then when the President comes in he’ll be like, what happened? (Laughter.)
All right, Kristen, mark that down. When we get home — should I put it over the door?
Q Put it where he can’t see it.
MRS. OBAMA: Okay. This is going to be good. (Laughter.)
Josue, you had your hand up.
Q Are you a good cook?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes! I am. (Laughter.) I’m an excellent cook. I haven’t done it in a while because there are chefs — people at the White House cook for us. But before I came here, yes, I was a good cook. I had a few good solid dishes that I loved to cook. The fast ones that everybody was sick of, like — well, I didn’t do sandwiches, I did like baked chicken and brown rice and broccoli. I had this great shrimp pasta with garlic that I did. The President, he can cook too, but he just didn’t cook that much. He has this great chili that he would do, but I wound up making it more than he did. (Laughter.) Yeah, you guys know that drill, how that goes. But I do enjoy cooking. Do you like to cook? What’s your best dish?
Q It’s an Italian sandwich.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, what do you put in it?
Q I put red bell peppers, salami, mozzarella cheese, and (inaudible).
MRS. OBAMA: Ooh — what kind of bread? It’s like a focaccia?
Q We make the bread.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, I’m so hungry. (Laughter.) You did me in on that one. That sounds good.
All right, are you guys all questioned out? I don’t believe it. I knew it — Tyler. (Laughter.) Wait, wait, let’s let Carrie-Lynn. She hasn’t asked a question yet. And then, Tyler, we’ll get back to you.
Q Who’s your favorite artist?
MRS. OBAMA: My favorite musical artist? Oh, I love all types of artists. Stevie Wonder. Everybody probably on the planet knows that Stevie Wonder is my favorite artist of all time. But I love Beyoncé. I love — let’s see — I’m blanking now because I’m on the spot. But I love jazz; I love jazz artists. Tell me, who’s your favorite artist? Maybe that will spark my memory of who I like.
Q I like Rihanna.
MRS. OBAMA: You like Rihanna? You both like Rihanna. Me too, girl. (Laughter.) All right, yeah, she’s all right. She’s good. Malia and Sasha like her, too.
All right, Devon?
Q Do you like Michael Jackson?
MRS. OBAMA: I do. Do you? What’s your favorite song of Michael Jackson’s?
Q The Halloween song.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, Thriller. (Laughter.)
Q Sing it! Sing it!
MRS. OBAMA: Sing it, sing it, sing it. All right, Sebastian is going — we’re going to put on a show. Can you sing? Kayla sings. I thought I’d give it a try. (Child sings.) Who did that? Josue? This is hard. This is a hard crowd. When they leave, we can sing and dance when they go.
All right, Tyler, you get the last question.
Q What do you like — who do you like to scare the most on Halloween?
MRS. OBAMA: What’s with you and all the scaring? (Laughter.) Are you scaring people at your house?
Q Maybe. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: What are you going to be for Halloween this year?
Q I don’t know.
MRS. OBAMA: Is it going to be scary? I try not to scare people on Halloween. We do a big Trick-or-Treat — we do Trick-or-Treating at the White House. The White House — they put an orange light on the White House, and kids from the neighborhood come up to the South Lawn. So we try not to make it scary, because the little kids — you don’t want people scared when they come to the White House.
Q Yeah, you do.
MRS. OBAMA: Aw, Tyler. (Laughter.) What about the little kids?
Q They’ll leave, then.
MRS. OBAMA: They run away crying from the White House? No, we can’t do that. You have to keep it wholesome. We’ll leave the scaring to you. (Laughter.) I’ll try the bucket trick, but I don’t know about the scaring.
Q Why don’t you do slime and it will feel like they got ghost goo on them. They’ll be like, ah, ghost goo!
MRS. OBAMA: You got some great ideas. I need to connect you with the social office. (Laughter.)
Okay, last two. Sebastian, then Kayla, and then we’ll do some selfies, ussies, or whatever you call it. Yes, Sebastian.
Q My family is big on travel.
MRS. OBAMA: Big on travel?
Q What’s been your favorite place to travel?
MRS. OBAMA: All of them. (Laughter.) Give me one. Name a place that you remember.
MRS. OBAMA: Colombia. Now, I’ve never been to Colombia.
Q I’ve been to Colombia, Ecuador, L.A. I’ve been to New York City. I’ve been to —
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, you guys do a lot of traveling.
MRS. OBAMA: That’s awesome. Do you like to travel?
MRS. OBAMA: Travel is good. Do you guys get to travel? All you guys get to travel?
Q A lot.
Q What else? Ecuador —
MRS. OBAMA: He’s looking for some assistance. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: All right, there’s a debate. He’s disagreeing with you. I don’t think you know where you’ve been.
Q When did we go there?
MRS. OBAMA: Is that your dad?
Q Oh, yeah, we went to Mexico. We went to —
MRS. OBAMA: You guys have traveled a lot. I get it. I get it.
All right, Kayla, last question.
Q Do you have a fashion designer?
MRS. OBAMA: Do I have a fashion designer?
MRS. OBAMA: No, I don’t have one. There are many. I buy clothes from many different people.
MRS. OBAMA: Do you have a fashion designer that you like the most?
Q I don’t know them. I just pick out whoever has the most sparkles.
MRS. OBAMA: You like sparkles. Yeah, sparkles are good. Sparkles work.
Q I like my shoes.
MRS. OBAMA: I see those shoes. Those are awesome. Awesome.
All right, you guys, let’s do some selfies — ussies!
END 6:17 P.M. CDT