Michelle Obama, whose husband calls her "the star" of their family, introduced herself Monday to the Democratic convention in a heartfelt speech invoking the dreams of her father and the hopes of her husband for the nation.
"Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do," Obama said. "You treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them."
The self-described daughter, wife and mother also gave a nod to Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama's chief rival for the Democratic nomination. She hailed the New York senator as someone who put "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling" by winning nearly that many votes in state nominating contests.
She told those watching on television that, like them, she and the candidate value strong family ties, a belief in hard work and upward mobility, and a determination to create "the world as it should be."
"That thread that connects us — our belief in America's promise, our commitment to our children's future — is strong enough to hold us together as one nation even when we disagree," she said.
Obama was preceded on stage by her older brother Craig Robinson, the men's basketball coach at Oregon State University, and a video about their life on Chicago's South Side narrated by their mother, Marian Robinson.
The enthusiastic crowd waved blue-and-white signs proclaiming "Michelle" and clapped loudly when Obama mentioned today's 88th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.
Poised and smooth on the podium, Obama delivered an emotional speech that kept the thousands inside the Pepsi Center absorbed and attentive. She welled up with tears when recalling her father, Fraser, a Chicago waterworks employee who stayed on the job despite multiple sclerosis.
"My dad was our rock … our provider, our champion, our hero," she said. "If he was in pain, he never let on."
In the video, Barack Obama recalled courting Michelle by asking her out repeatedly then trying his "big move" for ice cream.
Today, she said, her husband is still "the same man who drove me and our new baby daughter (Malia) home from the hospital 10 years ago this summer, inching along at a snail's pace, peering anxiously at us in the rearview mirror, feeling the whole weight of her future in his hands."
Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, appeared on stage after Obama's speech, and the three waved up at a screen where the candidate addressed the convention hall via satellite from Kansas City, Mo. "Michelle, you were unbelievable, and you also look very cute," he said. "Malia, Sasha, how do you think Mom did?"
"I think she did good," Sasha replied.
In her speech, Obama praised members of the military and their families, teachers and community service workers as people with "a simple belief that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be."
"That is the thread that connects our hearts," she said. "And you see, that is why I love this country." The last line was evocative of one that drew criticism this year when she said "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country."
Obama told National Public Radio on Monday that she ignores those who question her patriotism and say she is an angry woman.
"I have not paid much attention about what people say about me who don't know me," she said. "It would be very hard for me to function in this world and to go through Princeton and Harvard and to work in all the careers that I've worked if I worried about labels."
Obama's job is to tell her life story, rather than respond to critics, says Democratic strategist Bill Carrick. "I don't think the average American who's out there trying to make up their mind who to vote for knows these intricate details," he says.
"It's best to just ignore all that stuff and … move forward with telling the story of her life and make people understand where she comes from and the values of her life. If you've accomplished that, you're doing a lot."