WASHINGTON (AP) — Her voice cracking and eyes filled with tears, first lady Michelle Obama remembered her parents' sacrifices for their two children and how they pushed for success as she urged high school graduates to claim their destiny.
Mrs. Obama addressed students, parents and faculty of The Academies at Anacostia at the school's graduation ceremony Friday at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall, not far from the White House. She said she would not have been standing at the podium if her parents had not encouraged her and her brother, Craig Robinson, to dream big.
"I remember my mom pushing me and my brother to do things she'd never done herself; things she'd been afraid to do herself," the first lady said. "What I can remember is my father getting up every day and going to work at the water filtration plant, even after he was diagnosed with MS, even after it got hard for him to button his shirt, and to get up and walk. See, I remember my parents sacrificing for us, pouring everything they had into us, being there for us, encouraging us to reach for a life they never knew."
Michelle Obama's father, Fraser, is deceased. Her mother, Marian Robinson, lives at the White House with the first family.
She also encouraged the graduates to give themselves a pat on the back.
"You have to understand that there are a lot of people out there who believe in you. I believe in you. The president of the United States believes in you," said Obama, who spoke for about 25 minutes. "When times are hard for us, you inspire us. You keep us going. We are expecting big things from you in the years to come. Big things."
The first lady urged students to surround themselves with the right friends, travel abroad and to continue to pursue higher education.
"You don't have to be on a college campus to educate yourself," she said. "There are opportunities all over D.C. to enrich your lives and enrich your minds."
It was Mrs. Obama's second address to Anacostia students. She visited the school during the last academic year to mentor female students. The school is in one of the poorest sections of Washington and has struggled in the past, leading to its transfer to a charter school operator.
According to the graduation program, 164 students received diplomas during the ceremony. More than 90 percent of the graduates have received college acceptance letters. Mrs. Obama said school attendance and college acceptances had risen significantly.
Graduate Jordan Smiley, the Class of 2010 valedictorian who will attend Hampton University this fall, told the first lady that the student body looks to her family as examples of what it can achieve.
"Today we are proof that change, whether good or bad, can be beneficial," Smiley said in his speech. "We are writing history and we have the choice to determine what the future says about us."