Michelle Obama didn't shy away from taking on the issues of prejudice, racial discrimination and the even current climate of being a mom in America in her commencement address to the graduating students of Tuskegee University on Saturday (May 9). The First Lady shared some of her personal highs and lows in the moving speech.
Obama began by recalling the proud history of the historically Black university and its first round of graduates, who made bricks by hand to construct the buildings that would educate coming generations of Black leaders. She also pointed out that the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II endured prejudice and ridicule to set an example of how far Black people can fly.
"The defining story of Tuskegee is the story of rising hopes and fortunes for all African Americans. And now, graduates, it's your turn to take up that cause," Obama said of the university founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington.
Mrs. Obama also raised the issue of civil unrest in the country, stemming from Baltimore and Ferguson, and added that even she and the president have endured discrimination throughout their entire lives from, "the people at formal events who assumed you were the help; and those that have questioned our intelligence, our honesty and even our love of this country."
She shared her own insecurities about the public's perception of her as an "angry Black woman" during the 2008 campaign and talked about how the now-infamous New Yorker cover, showing her in a fist-bump with Osama Bin Laden, made her feel.
"Then there was the first time I was on a magazine cover –– it was a cartoon drawing of me with a huge afro and machine gun," Obama said. "Now, yeah, it was satire, but if I’m really being honest, it knocked me back a bit. It made me wonder just how are people seeing me."
The FLOTUS was pragmatic but optimistic about the future, telling the 500 graduates, "The road ahead is not going to be easy. It never is, especially for folks like you and me. Because while we've come so far, the truth is those age-old problems are stubborn, and they haven't fully gone away."
But, she said, history provides a "blueprint" for moving forward and that citizens must use politics, voting and education to affect change.
"Those Airmen, who rose above brutal discrimination, they did it so the world could see just how high Black folks could soar. That's the spirit we've got to summon to take on the challenges we face today," Obama said.
She urged graduates to likewise put aside negative voices and stay true to themselves and their dreams in deciding their paths. "No matter what path you choose, I want to make sure that it is you choosing it and not someone else," she said.
Obama will deliver the commencement address at Oberlin College later this month, as well.
Check the video below for a clip of her speech at Tuskegee.
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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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