The surprising reason Michelle Obama’s Princeton advisor rewrote her Harvard Law School recommendation letter

The questions you should ask before going to law school

Michelle Obama says an unimpressed professor's recommendation letter nearly jeopardized her acceptance into Harvard Law School, according to a Refinery29 interview published Thursday. However, her ability to overcome negativity while studying sociology at Princeton helped her succeed.

"When I went to my thesis advisor for a letter of recommendation for law school, he did the best thing he possibly could have done: He gave a brutally honest response," Obama said.

"You know, you're a good student," Obama said her advisor told her, "but are you the best I've seen? I'm not sure."

First lady Michelle Obama is presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by James Milliken, the chancellor for the City University of New York , while delivering the commencement speech at City College on June 3, 2016 in New York City. This was the final commencement speech of her tenure as first lady.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Still, he agreed to write her a recommendation letter. Although she wanted to apply to Harvard Law, she admitted she wasn't at her best academically.

"When I was writing my senior thesis in college, I had a great topic, and I was working pretty hard, but not as hard as I could have been," Obama said. As a result, she "made a decision to prove him wrong" and let his response motivate her.

"For the next three months, I worked like you wouldn't believe on that thesis. I was in his office every day," Obama said.

Later that year, the same thesis advisor asked Obama what she planned to do after college.

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"Well, I'm applying to law school," Obama responded, according to Refinery29. "You wrote me a letter of recommendation."

"I did?" Obama recalled the professor asking her. He added, "I think I'm going to write you another letter."

She was later accepted to Harvard Law School.

"The lesson I learned from that is that as women and girls, we have to confront those negative voices — the ones in our head and the ones from people in our lives — telling us what we can't do," Obama told Refinery29. She added it's a challenge she still struggles with today.

Obama also noted that if she had the chance to be 20 years old again, she would do exactly what she did back then: focus on getting her education.

Doing so ultimately allowed her to pursue the career of her dreams in law, public service, and nonprofit work, she said.

"Education was truly everything for me. Neither of my parents had a chance to attend college, but they were so determined to give me that chance, and getting my degree changed the course of my life," Obama said.

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