Michelle Obama Urges North Carolina A&T Grads to Help Change the World

The first lady reminded students of the institution’s civil rights legacy.

Posted: 05/14/2012 05:34 PM EDT

First Lady Michelle Obama invoked the memory of the Greensboro Four, a group of students at North Carolina A&T University who led lunch counter protests at Woolworth’s in 1960, in a commencement speech she delivered at the school on Saturday. After being refused service because of their skin color, they repeatedly returned to the store, each time accompanied by even more African-Americans. Their actions inspired others to do the same across the South, which forced Woolworth’s to end its discriminatory treatment.

"It all started because a small group of young people had their eyes open to the injustices around them," she said. "It all started because they decided, as one of the four told the newspaper on the first day of the protests, that it was 'time for someone to wake up and change the situation.' And that, more than anything else, is the story of our nation’s progress right from the very beginning."

The first lady challenged the approximately 1,200 graduates to follow their example and to think not just of career advancement as they move forward but also figure out how they will give back.

“Each generation does its part to perfect our union. Each generation looks at the world around them and decides that it's time to wake up and change the situation. And we've always looked to our young people to lead the way. We always have,” she said. “So graduates, now it's your turn. It's time for you to take that baton. Take it. It's time for you to carry the banner forward. It's time for you to wake the rest of us up and show us everything you've got.”

It was the second of three speeches that Obama will deliver this spring. On Friday she spoke at Virginia Tech, where she counseled students to not allow the violent shootings that shocked the nation in 2007 define their school or themselves. In June the first lady will speak at Oregon State University, where her brother, Craig Robinson, is the men’s basketball coach.

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