First lady Michelle Obama dropped by the U.S. Department of Education last week to honor career employees, the first in what’s supposed to be a series of such sessions at various Cabinet agencies.
The roughly 350 employees who gathered for the Feb. 2 event cheered, applauded, and used cellphone cameras to take pictures of the first lady. Seventeen of the longest-serving employees, some of whom have spent decades at the department, stood behind Mrs. Obama as she spoke.
“I am a product of your work,” she told the crowd. She said she wanted to say thank you—“Thank you before we even begin the work, because so many of you have been here struggling and pushing for decades. ... The children of this country are counting on all of us.”
Mrs. Obama is planning to drop by a number of federal agencies and speak to employees, in part to get to know the people living in her new hometown of Washington, a spokeswoman said.
In introducing the first lady, her fellow Chicagoan, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reiterated remarks he made during his Senate confirmation hearing about an “Obama effect,” which he hopes will inspire school children across the country.
Recognizing and commending the efforts of career staff members was “really right on” said Karen Stratman-Krusemark, a career employee who serves as a liaison between the department and professional associations in the education field. She and other department employees also had glowing words for their new boss.
“[Mr. Duncan] has this great combination of smart and real,” Ms. Stratman-Krusemark said. “We were cheering at the staff meeting; we were all so excited to get to work. ... Right now, if you work at the Department of Ed, it’s like the coolest thing.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 11, 2009 edition of Education Week