Why high school senior Malia Obama keeps bringing tears to her dad's eyes

At a Michigan event promoting his College Promises proposal, President Obama recalls choking back tears at the thought of daughter Malia's departure for college.

Paul Sancya
President Barack Obama pretends to wipe a tear during his speech at Macomb County Community College Wednesday, in Warren, Mich. The president said he's "a little freaked out" that his oldest daughter, Malia, just started her senior year in high school.

President Barack Obama is full of fatherly sentiments these days, especially when he visits schools to talk about his affordable college plan.

On the publicity tour for his proposal that would make community colleges free, Obama told the crowd in Warren, Mich., Wednesday that he got weepy when his daughter Malia reminded him she’ll be leaving for college soon.

"Just yesterday, Malia started her first day of senior year. You know, I was sitting in her room because I was going to see her off her first day of school," Mr. Obama recalls to the audience at Maycomb County Community College. "She puts her head on my shoulder and she says, 'Daddy, you know, you realize this is probably going to be the last time that you ever send me off for my first day of school.'"

The audience, touched by his emotional disclosure, responded with a collective aww, according to People.com.  

“And I started – I had to look away,” he continues. “I didn’t want to just be such a crybaby. It makes no sense.”

Standing at 6-ft., 1-in., the 17-year-old Malia is well underway for college prep. In the past year, the high school senior has been touring schools down the East and West coasts with her mother, Michelle. Notable visits include Stanford; New York University; and University of California, Berkeley; Barnard; and her father’s alma mater, Columbia. In whichever college she chooses, she’d like to pursue film and television, and this summer she was an intern on the set of "Girls," an HBO show created by Lena Dunham.

Obama is running out of time to spend at home with his eldest, who happens to be quite the tennis star. At Worcester, Mass., last year, Obama said he’s been priming himself for what’s to come. "I'm trying to get used to not choking up and crying and embarrassing her,’ he says at the commencement ceremony at Worcester Technical High School. “So this is sort of my trial run here."

Again in April, the commander-in-chief got a little emotional at a White House prayer breakfast.

“I start tearing up in the middle of the day, and I can’t explain it. Why am I so sad?” Obama says. “They’re leaving me.”

It seems that the president is keeping himself busy, though, with the college affordability plan. Over the next 10 years, the government would spend $60 billion to make community college free for qualifying students if the Republican Congress could possibly approve the proposal. In addition, he calls for more federal grants to encourage companies to hire apprentices so students can make a living as they pursue a degree.

Continuing with his tour, the president will go to Des Moines next Monday to speak with high schoolers about the plan, dubbed the College Promise. Students who attend college at least part-time and maintain a 2.5 GPA would all quality for free tuition, but those from families that earn more than $200,000 would not. Although Malia probably won’t be attending community college, Obama says that he has always believed in the importance of education – not only for his daughters but for all of the nation’s children.

“I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President,” he writes in an open letter to Malia and Sasha, 14, in a 2009 issue of Parade Magazine. “I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential – schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them.”

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