This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Becoming" by Michelle Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Who was Suzanne Alele? What lasting impact did she have on Michelle Obama’s life?
Suzanne Alele was Michelle’s best friend from Princeton. Suzanne was carefree, spontaneous, and full of vigor. Tragically, at the age of 26, Suzanne lost her battle with cancer and taught Michelle the importance of enjoying life.
Keep reading to learn more about Michelle and Suzanne’s friendship.
Michelle Obama and Suzanne Alele
In college, Michelle Obama’s brother Craig introduced Michelle to Suzanne Alele, a premed student who quickly became one of Michelle’s best friends despite their polar-opposite personalities. While Michelle was organized and meticulous, Suzanne was messy and carefree. Michelle was a planner, and Suzanne made decisions on the spur of the moment. Still, the two became inseparable and eventually shared an apartment together.
Michelle reflects that later in life when she lived with Barack—a man who never folded his clothes and left piles of belongings in every room—she was able to coexist peacefully with him because of her experiences living with Suzanne.
Suzanne Alele Dies
Years after graduation, Suzanne called to announce that she was quitting her job as a computer specialist to travel around the world with her mother. Always the more conservative of the two friends, Michelle told Suzanne she was being irresponsible. Despite Michelle’s disapproval, Suzanne left her job and traveled with her mother.
Suzanne returned home to Maryland several months later and phoned Michelle with completely different news: Her body was being ravaged by an aggressive form of lymphoma. In a tragic twist of fate, her mother had also been diagnosed with cancer of a completely different type.
Unable to cope with Suzanne’s devastating news, Michelle used work as an excuse so she wouldn’t have to think about her friend’s mortality—and by extension, her own. She spent months in a frenzied state of nonstop work, blocking out thoughts of her dying friend. She kept telling herself that somehow Suzanne would recover.
Suzanne had several unsuccessful treatments and surgeries. When Michelle learned the doctors didn’t think she would live much longer, Michelle traveled to Maryland to say goodbye to Suzanne, who was already in a coma. Michelle felt devastated by the terrible injustice of her free-spirited friend dying at 26 years old.
Michelle felt challenged and inspired by the way Suzanne lived fully and vibrantly while Michelle worked nonstop, always obsessed with achievement. Suzanne’s death served as a catalyst for Michelle, making her want more joy in her life.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Becoming summary :
- How Michelle Obama went from the South Side of Chicago to the White House
- Why much of her success came from her being determined from a young age
- How Michelle Obama continues to push herself and discover new opportunities