WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama was in full dad-in-chief mode Friday, clearing his schedule to attend oldest daughter Malia’s high school graduation.
Only 10 years old when he entered office, Malia’s graduation from the private Sidwell Friends school in Washington marks a milestone for the first family, who sought to instill a sense of normalcy for their two girls as they grew up in decidedly abnormal circumstances.
By his own admission, Obama has long been dreading the day his first born would mark the end of her high school career. He declined a request to speak at the event, insisting he’d be too broken up with emotion.
But he was the highest-profile guest at the mid-morning ceremony, held on the school’s campus in Washington’s leafy Northwest quadrant. The First Lady and Malia’s sister Sasha, who turned 15 on Friday, were also expected the attend.
To maintain the family’s privacy, the White House didn’t allow any photo-ops of a teary commander-in-chief experiencing the bittersweet joys of parenthood.
“I’m going to be sitting there with dark glasses, sobbing,” he told TV host Ellen DeGeneres earlier this year. “She’s one of my best friends. And it’s going to be hard for me not to have her around all the time. But she’s ready to go. You can tell. She’s just a really smart, capable person and she’s ready to make her own way.”
Malia was accepted to Harvard and will attend the prestigious university in 2017 after taking gap year. Her plans for the next 12 months haven’t been revealed — and aren’t likely to be disclosed by the White House — though Obama joked recently he wasn’t likely to have much of a say.
“She already doesn’t listen to me, whatever I say,” he told a questioner in Ho Chi Minh City who asked if Malia might travel there during her gap year. “You want her to come to Vietnam, I shouldn’t be the one to tell her.”
Those protestations aside, Obama and his daughters have a close bond, even amid the intense schedules of presidential travel and meetings. Obama made a point in his presidency of dining with his family at night in the White House residence, returning to work in the Oval Office afterwards if necessary. He’s likened it to “living above the store.”
When they do travel together, as they did recently on a trip to Chicago and San Francisco, Obama and Malia are often seen smiling and joking together.
While he wasn’t able to teach her to drive — that task was taken up by the Secret Service — Obama did attend yearly parent-teacher conferences at Sidwell Friends and occasionally attended a basketball game or dance recital.
Malia’s Spanish studies came in handy earlier this year during Obama’s historic trip to Cuba, when Malia acted as a translator for her dad during dinner at a Havana “paladar.” Obama later told an interviewer that Malia’s spoke “much better” Spanish than he did (not a high bar set by the non-fluent president).
Her parents have hinted at Malia’s interest in filmmaking, and she’s completed short-term internships on television sets in New York and Los Angeles.
When her parents leave the White House in January, Malia will still have a home in Washington. The Obamas have rented a home in the capital while Sasha completes her own high school career at Sidwell.
But don’t expect to see Malia lingering around for too long.
“I think Malia is very eager to get out of here,” Obama told Jimmy Fallon this week.