Michelle (Robinson) Obama ’85 in Princeton’s Freshman Orientation Program

By Iliyah Coles ’22

Freshman Orientation for the Class of 1985, 1981. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 182.

It may be difficult to recognize at first glance, but there is a now-famous face in this photograph. The former first lady, Michelle Obama, then named Michelle Robinson, is on the first row sitting from the top towards the middle of the photograph. This is a picture of the 1981 Freshman Orientation Program participants from the Class of 1985. The program was implemented sometime in the 1970s; it lasted for about three weeks during the summer.

The Freshmen Orientation Program was designed to assist incoming students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program introduced the students to Princeton, complete with rigorous courses and campus life. At the start of the program, only minority students were allowed, but as the program progressed, the participants included those with financial struggles and those who were the first in their high school to attend Princeton. The Daily Princetonian quoted Assistant Dean of Students Rochelle Robinson in 1984, “Academically, the objective of the program is to reduce the ‘preparation gap’ that separates students from small, remote, or inner-city schools.” 

Obama joined this program in 1981 with the incoming Class of 1985. Though the Freshman Orientation Program does not exist in this form today, there is still a version of it called the Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI), which seeks to help incoming students with the transition as well. 

For more information on what our records hold related to Michelle (Robinson) Obama’s time at Princeton, please see our previous blog on this topic.

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