Michelle Obama: Cherishing her platform

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First lady Michelle Obama
CBS News

(CBS News) First lady Michelle Obama has been living in the White House for over four years now, enjoying moments of accomplishment while also sharing moments of national grief. Our Lee Cowan has paid her a visit:

It was a bright and shiny day when Cowan met with first lady Michelle Obama at the White House -- just three days before the events in Boston, and West, Texas.

Those twin tragedies cast a long shadow over a Spring that was just beginning to bloom that day, out in the White House Garden . . .

It all changed so quickly. In the following days, the President and the first lady found themselves attending memorial services for the dead.

Offering the consolation of a nation has been, says Michelle Obama, more powerful than almost anything else she's had to face.

"How do you do that? How do you walk into some of these rooms, when there are no words, [and] come up with the words to say?" asked Cowan.

"You know, in those moments, I try to speak from my heart, and I try to do a lot more listening that I do talking," she replied. "But yeah, it's tough, but knowing that a hug, an ear, a ray of hope -- we know how important that is. So that helps you find the words somehow."

First lady Michelle Obama speaks about the murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton during a speech about combating youth violence, April 10, 2013, in Chicago. Scott Olson/Getty Images

She found the words recently in her hometown of Chicago, scarred by 500 gun-related homicides last year -- most of them gun-related -- and the death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, murdered just a week after performing at the President's inauguration.

"What I realized was that Hadiya's family was just like my family," the first lady said in Chicago on April 10. "Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her."

"That really seemed to strike even closer to home," Cowan said, "maybe in part because it was home."

"Absolutely," Obama said. "And after I gave that speech, I spent some time with a group of wonderful kids at Harper High School in Englewood, a community that has been riddled with violence. And to hear them share their stories of how every day they wake up and they wonder whether they're going to make it out of school alive. I mean every single one worried about their own death, or the death of someone, every single day.

"We have millions of kids living in these kind of circumstances who are doing everything right, and we, as a nation, have to embrace these kids and let them know that we hear them, we see them," she said. "One kid told me he felt like he lived in a cage, because he feels like his community is unseen, unheard, and nobody cares about it.

"What's our obligation to these kids? We do have one."

Michelle Obama: "Hadiya Pendleton was me"

Critics claimed she was using the violence of her hometown for political gain in the gun debate. But others praised her, calling it the non-political plea of a mother with two young daughters.

Either way, her concern for the nation's youth has been her top priority since becoming first lady. She started with a battle that's hardly controversial: childhood obesity, which (according to the Centers for Disease Control) has more than doubled in the last 30 years.

Her initiative, a program called "Let's Move," hopes to end childhood obesity within a generation.

" 'Let's Move' is not about telling people what to do, but it's about giving people the information so that they know what to do," she said.

"But how do you overcome the kids just not wanting to eat their vegetables?" asked Cowan. "Because that probably hasn't changed -- I mean, I didn't want to eat my vegetables."

"But you had to eat your vegetables, correct?" Obama said. "Now somehow that's shifted, where all of a sudden we think that kids should have a complete say over what they eat. And kids don't know. My kids know, you've got to eat your vegetables, so our household is no different. Our kids are not somehow veggie lovers. . . . It's still a struggle. And that's what I share with other parents. It is a struggle."

"American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America" by Michelle Obama. Crown

Hence the first lady's first book, "American Grown" (Crown). It's a guide of sorts, with advice for parents, schools, and local governments on how to combat the obesity crisis.

And all of it is built around her own pet project, a kitchen/vegetable garden on the South Lawn.

This is the garden's second term as well -- ever since ground was broken four years ago, kids from all over the country have come to play and plant in the dirt -- everything from peas and carrots, to a new crop this year: wheat.

She said there was a learning curve to the garden: "Curves all over the place. I mean, we had a lot of failure going on! Lot of failures going on out here!" But many successes, too.