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[WASHINGTON] Michelle Obama urged young Americans not to fear the future but fight for it, delivering an emotive farewell speech on Friday in which she said being first lady was the greatest honour of her life.
After eight years in the White House, the 52-year-old will be leaving with her husband Barack Obama on January 20, when Donald Trump is sworn in as president.
"For all the young people in this room and those who are watching, know that this country belongs to you, to all of you, from every background and walk of life," she said in the East Room of the White House.
"Being the first lady has been the greatest honour of my life," she said at an event for School Counselor of the Year. "I hope I have made you proud."
As first lady, Mrs Obama focused her public role on encouraging healthy lifestyles, education for girls and in supporting military families.
But it was as a role model for minorities that the first African-American first lady wielded the most influence - most spectacularly by denouncing Donald Trump's attacks on immigrants and Muslims during the White House race.
"If you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition," she told the audience.
"With a lot of hard work and a good education, anything is possible, including becoming president. That's what the American dream is all about," she said.
"Know that religious diversity is a great American tradition too," Mrs Obama said. "Our glorious diversity is what makes us who we are." During last year's campaign, Mrs Obama was a vociferous critic of Mr Trump.
She made no direct reference to the president-elect Friday but the mogul's victory framed her remarks.
"You cannot take your freedom for granted," Mrs Obama said. "You have to do your part to protect and preserve those freedoms." "So don't be afraid - you hear me young people? Don't be afraid, be focused, be determined, be empowered... lead by example, with hope, never fear."
In a speech delivered in New Hampshire in October, a few weeks before the election, the first lady had denounced, her voice trembling with emotion, what she called Mr Trump's "frightening" attitude towards women.
"It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted," Mrs Obama said, in a takedown of the now president-elect that sent shockwaves around the country and beyond.
"This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable," she charged.
In addition to her work combatting obesity and assisting veterans' families, over the last two years, Mrs Obama has spoken more pointedly on questions of race and inequality in American society.
A recent Pew Research poll found that 72 per cent of Americans hold a favourable opinion of the first lady.
But despite her political superstar status and a reputation for style, wit and tact, Mrs Obama has repeatedly said she has no electoral ambitions herself.
"Michelle will never run for office," Barack Obama reiterated in an interview several weeks ago. "She is as talented a person as I know. You can see the incredible resonance she has with the American people.
"But I joke that she's too sensible to want to be in politics."