PORTLAND — Officially, Michelle Obama is coming to Oregon today to deliver a commencement address at Oregon State University in Corvallis. While the first lady’s there, though, she’ll also be meeting her newest nephew, born four months ago to her brother and his wife.
With an official visit from his sister, Craig Robinson will be merging his two very public roles, as first brother-in-law and as head coach of Oregon State’s men’s basketball team.
“It’s really nice to see how excited Oregon State, Corvallis and the state of Oregon are about her visit,” Robinson said. “That’s a good feeling, as a big brother, to know so many people have warm feelings for your sister coming to town.”
Robinson doesn’t tap into his sister’s star power very often, he said, but he thought she could bring some worthwhile attention to the university. He also takes his players every year for an insider’s experience in Washington.
“It gives the guys ... on the team a great experience, to be able to go to Washington, play a game, have the first family support you and get a tour of the White House. It’s a really meaningful experience,” he said.
Robinson played basketball at Princeton and played professionally in Europe for two years. He coached for two years at Illinois Institute of Technology before leaving in 1990 for a career in finance. A decade later, he returned to coaching as an assistant at Northwestern, then as head coach at Brown.
OSU hired Robinson in 2008, when Barack Obama was an Illinois senator seeking the presidency. He said his brother-in-law’s job hasn’t changed his job all that much.
Obama and Robinson are close, he said, even if they don’t see each other as frequently as they did when both lived in Chicago. Obama is making her second trip to Corvallis, and Robinson brings his family to Washington once or twice a year, he said.
Robinson insisted, as do school officials, that he merely opened the door. OSU sealed the deal because of its public health initiatives that fit well with the first lady’s agenda to improve health and combat childhood obesity.
The university is promoting its work on the One Health Initiative, which aims to improve collaboration between experts involved in health, including doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians and environmental experts.
“University graduations typically don’t attract a lot of attention,” said Steve Clark, an OSU spokesman. “In this case, we’re receiving, certainly, regional attention across the Pacific Northwest and national attention, too.”
OSU’s graduating class of nearly 5,000 students will be its largest ever, Clark said. Obama will be given an honorary doctorate in public health. Officials expect more than 30,000 people to pack Reser Stadium for the graduation ceremony. Visitors will have to pass through metal detectors, and the university is encouraging them to arrive as early as possible. The doors will open at 12:30 p.m.
Obama’s OSU graduation speech will be her third this year. She spoke at Virginia Tech and North Carolina A&T.
The Corvallis trip is part of a Western swing for the first lady this week. She has campaign events scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday in Nevada and Colorado, battleground states in the president’s re-election bid.
Robinson campaigned for Obama in 2008 and expects to be involved again this year.
“Whatever help they need, I’m willing to give and looking forward to giving it,” he said.