CHICAGO — At the tender age of 11, Cecilia Moseley already appears versed in the virtues of fitness. But she was left star-struck Sunday after first lady Michelle Obama and an audience of global leaders reinforced the message in person.
The sixth-grader beamed after chatting about exercise with Obama at south Chicago's Gary Comer Youth Center, where the first lady led a handful of dignitaries or significant others of European leaders here for the NATO summit on a tour. The youth center is just minutes from her childhood stomping grounds.
The first lady and her guests – from such far-flung places as Norway, Turkey, Croatia and Albania – viewed the center's rooftop garden, watched youths practice their culinary training and took in a performance by an African-American dance troupe and a gospel group.
And they saw Cecilia and nine other kids do some hip-hop aerobics.
The 80,000-square-foot center was created by the late Gary Comer, who founded the Lands' End clothing company, in the Chicago neighborhood where he claimed as his roots.
It's unlikely the center has ever enjoyed this much attention. Cecilia sure hasn't.
"It's very exciting," the girl told reporters as the tour slowly moved on. "I've never met a person like that."
Michelle Obama's choice for the tour stop as President Barack Obama addressed NATO leaders appeared to be a natural one, wedding an opportunity for the first lady to revisit her old neighborhood and the chance to trumpet fitness – her cause celebre with the "Let's Move" initiative she launched in early 2010 to promote healthy, active lifestyles, notably among kids.
"This is a real memory opportunity, that they would pick this place to tour and see what we do every day," said Jomari Glover, 15, after taking part in the aerobics demonstration.
The first lady, dressed in heels and a tight-fitting, tan Zac Posen dress, politely begged off joining in the aerobics and steered clear of politicking for her husband's re-election bid.
But she didn't resist the chance to promote working out – or consider offering Cecila and the group members a chance to bring their aerobics to Washington.
"Be that role model for the rest of the community. This is fun. Keep it up," she said hours before she planned to host a dinner at the Art Institute of Chicago for the spouses of NATO leaders. "You've got to come to the White House. You've gotta come see me. Now we can do it on the South Lawn. How about that? It's hot out there, though. Maybe we can do it in the fall."
A bit later, saying that "it really feels good to be home," Obama dispensed more inspirational advice, this time about life.
The Harvard-educated lawyer preached the need to pursue knowledge, insisting "there are no shortcuts to that." She urged the kids to pay it forward someday by inspiring others, perhaps starting a youth center of their own.
And she pressed not to fret failures and to dismiss naysayers, noting such people were once in her path.
"I decided to focus, kick the haters out," she told the youth center's children. "With every acceptance I realized it didn't matter where I was from. What mattered was how deeply I was willing to believe in myself.