First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Akie Abe of Japan greet students who lined the hallways at Great Falls Elementary School in Great Falls, Virginia, April 28, 2015.
My wish for all of you and for young people across America is that you have the chance to engage with kids from other parts of the world, that you learn about each other’s lives, that you understand one another’s hopes and dreams so that you can truly see for yourselves firsthand just how much we all have in common around the world.
—First Lady Michelle Obama at Great Falls Elementary School, on the Japan State Visit
First Lady Akie Abe also got to meet the First Dogs, Bo and Sunny, in a surprise visit!
First Lady Michelle Obama and First Lady Akie Abe of Japan are greeted by Bo and Sunny in the Ground Floor Corridor of the White House, April 28, 2015.
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Yesterday afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the Class of 2015 at Oberlin College in Ohio.
First Lady Michelle Obama is presented an honor sash during Oberlin College commencement ceremony in Oberlin, Ohio May 25, 2015.
The First Lady addressed the graduating Oberlin College class because Oberlin College was selected as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative’s “Near-Peer Mentoring College” Challenge – a challenge to institutes of higher education urging them to share videos on the ways they are helping high school students take charge of their future.
Oberlin’s near-peer challenge video showcased student voices from their Ninde Scholars Program, which matches Oberlin undergrads who provide academic support and college-access services to high school students in Ohio public schools. Oberlin's efforts exemplify the First Lady's mission to encourage schools to promote "near peer" mentorship. You can watch Oberlin College’s submission video here.
Not only was Oberlin the winner of her challenge, and a shining example of how to get underserved young people go on to college, but it held historical significance for Mrs. Obama as well.
"Oberlin is likely the only college in America that I could have attended nearly two centuries ago, and I am honored to be part of the extraordinary legacy of this great institution."
— First Lady Michelle Obama
Oberlin College was the first college in America to adopt a policy to admit African American students, as well as the first co-ed school to grant bachelor’s degrees to women -- and this year marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s own commencement address at Oberlin College.
The First Lady urged today's graduates of Oberlin to channel Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the spirit he aroused 50 years ago, to tackle the problems of today:
"You see, in his speech to those Oberlin graduates 50 years ago, Dr. King urged them, as Julia said, not to sleep through the civil rights revolution that was raging across this country. And, graduates, climate change, economic inequality, human rights, criminal justice – these are the revolutions of your time."
— First Lady Michelle Obama
The First Lady also urged the graduates to “rise above the noise and shape the revolutions of your time.” For, she said, “That is how you will have a meaningful journey on those clamorous highways of life.”
This past Saturday, First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement address to the Class of 2015 at Tuskegee University -- a historically black university in Tuskegee, Alabama. Founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881, Tuskegee is the only university in America to be designated as a National Historic Site.
In her remarks, the First Lady detailed Tuskegee's rich history -- spotlighting a number of the distinguished alumni that have previously walked the university's halls -- and encouraged the current class of graduates to not be intimidated by the legacy of their predecessors, or the expectations of others.
Mrs. Obama explained that she understood that kind of pressure herself -- not only as a First Lady, but as the first African American First Lady of the United States.
"I didn’t start out as the fully formed First Lady who stands before you today. No, no, I had my share of bumps along the way."
"Eventually," she said, "I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do, and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me. I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself -- and the rest would work itself out."
First Lady Michelle Obama participates in the Tuskegee University class of 2015 commencement ceremony in Tuskegee, Ala., May 9, 2015.
Mrs. Obama also detailed the obligation that she felt to make the "biggest impact possible" with the platform that comes with being the First Lady:
I took on issues that were personal to me -- issues like helping families raise healthier kids, honoring the incredible military families I’d met on the campaign trail, inspiring our young people to value their education and finish college.
Now, some folks criticized my choices for not being bold enough. But these were my choices, my issues. And I decided to tackle them in the way that felt most authentic to me -- in a way that was both substantive and strategic, but also fun and, hopefully, inspiring.
"At the end of the day," she said, "by staying true to the me I've always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing."
"Graduates, that’s what I want for all of you. I want you all to stay true to the most real, most sincere, most authentic parts of yourselves."
A student in the audience waves during First Lady Michelle Obama's remarks for the Tuskegee University Commencement ceremony in Tuskegee, Ala., May 9, 2015.
The First Lady also encouraged the graduates to remain strong in the face of those that "will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world," explaining how she and the President have been on the receiving end of those assumptions throughout their lives:
We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives -- the folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety; the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores; the people at formal events who assumed we were the “help” -- and those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country.
And I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day -- those nagging worries that you’re going to get stopped or pulled over for absolutely no reason; the fear that your job application will be overlooked because of the way your name sounds; the agony of sending your kids to schools that may no longer be separate, but are far from equal; the realization that no matter how far you rise in life, how hard you work to be a good person, a good parent, a good citizen -- for some folks, it will never be enough.
"All of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry," she said, adding that it can often make people feel like their lives don't matter. "[These feelings are] rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible. And those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country."
The First Lady emphasized, however, that those frustrations are not an excuse to quit, or to lose hope.
"Our history provides us with a better story, a better blueprint for how we can win," she said. "It teaches us that when we pull ourselves out of those lowest emotional depths, and we channel our frustrations into studying and organizing and banding together -- then we can build ourselves and our communities up. We can take on those deep-rooted problems, and together -- together -- we can overcome anything that stands in our way."
First Lady Michelle Obama greets alum and Selma civil rights leader, Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson, age 103 and Latifya Mohammed before the Tuskegee University Commencement ceremony in Tuskegee, Ala., May 9, 2015.
This post written by David Hudson and originally published on the White House blog.
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