WASHINGTON — Malia Obama was just 10 years old and longing for a promised puppy when her family moved into the White House.
She’s marked plenty of life’s milestones over the past seven years while growing up in the public eye: getting and shedding braces, learning to drive, making college tours, even spending brief stints away from her family. She will celebrate a big milestone Friday when she graduates from her private Washington high school, diploma in hand and the world at her feet.
Even presidents are parents, and it hasn’t always been easy for Barack Obama to watch as his nearly 18-year-old daughter —”one of my best friends” — has grown up fast, and in front of the whole world.
“I’m not going to talk about the fact that my daughter leaving me is just breaking my heart,” he said last week.
Months ago, the president blamed his emotions for declining an invitation to deliver this year’s commencement address at Sidwell Friends, the elite school where Malia is among 127 members of the Class of 2016. Younger sister Sasha attends Sidwell, too.
What’s next? Malia is taking a year for herself before enrolling at Harvard in the fall of 2017.
Neither Obama nor his wife, Michelle, has said what Malia has planned for her “gap year.” But delaying the start of college could keep her close to her tight-knit family as it prepares for another big transition early next year: the end of Obama’s ground-breaking presidency. The Obamas plan to stick around Washington for several years after the president leaves office so Sasha can finish high school here.
Both parents often praise Malia and her sister for being normal, happy kids despite living lives that are anything but normal.
Start with calling the White House home. They were the youngest kids to do so since President John F. Kennedy’s children, Caroline and John Jr., and they’re trailed in public by Secret Service agents. Obama has joked that it was comforting to know that when his girls were out and about they were being watched over by “men with guns.”
Malia has traveled to Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean with her parents, and taken a school trip to Mexico. She’s met celebrities and high-powered people, including the pope.
The first lady has said her daughter wants to be a filmmaker. Malia has had summer internships on the New York set of HBO’s “Girls” and in Los Angeles on a CBS sci-fi drama, since canceled, that starred Halle Berry. The experiences allowed her to sample life on her own, though not outside the reach of her Secret Service protectors.
Three months into her new White House life, Malia got the long-awaited puppy: Bo, a Portuguese water dog that was less likely than other breeds to aggravate her allergies. Obama had promised his kids a dog after the November 2008 election.
The young girl whose swing set still sits just outside the Oval Office is now taller than her 6-foot-1 dad, and turns heads whenever she’s spotted around town.
At school, Malia played soccer and tennis, the flute and piano. In a house with 132 rooms, she opted not to share one with her sister. Both girls get themselves up early every day to get ready for school, the first lady has said. They also make their own beds and handle their laundry.
Braces appeared when Malia was 12. Secret Service agents taught her how to drive.
Malia turns 18 on July 4, in time to cast her first vote for president — and for her father’s successor.
Malia’s fashion choices are scrutinized almost as closely as her mother’s. After she and her sister attended their first White House state dinner in March and photos of the glammed-up girls appeared, the internet buzzed with reports that the designer gowns they wore retailed for thousands of dollars.
Malia has also shown her independent side. In choosing Harvard, she appears to have cast aside her parents’ advice that students not feel pressured to attend a big-name school.
Her father confirmed the rebellious independent streak. Asked during last month’s trip to Vietnam how he would react if Malia told him she wants to spend her gap year in the southeast Asian country, Obama first said he’d encourage her. Then he added: “But what I’ve learned is, is that … she already doesn’t listen to me, whatever I say.”