First lady Michelle Obama told graduates of Dillard University in New Orleans to “stay hungry for education” and use their degrees not only for themselves but to inspire the next generation of students to succeed.
Obama delivered the commencement address at the historically black college on Saturday, weaving the story of the university’s 19th century founding as a school for freed slaves into a message focused on the empowering promise of education. She also talked about Dillard’s effort to rebuild after it was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“See, because while it is a wonderful thing that all of you are here today, we have to ask ourselves, what about all those geniuses who never get this chance?” the first lady continued.
“I’m talking about the young people from right here in New Orleans and across the country who aren’t part of a commencement like this one today, kids no different from all of us, kids who never made it out of high school.”
Michelle Obama is having a busier weekend than her husband, at least in public appearances. Standing in for the president, the first lady delivered her first solo weekly address, offering both a Mother’s Day message and prayers for the schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria. She also plans to meet veterans with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a vulnerable Democrat who has kept her distance from President Obama.
The first lady recognized Landrieu in the crowd, saying she had been “a strong supporter of this university.”
Citing the disproportionately high dropout rate among African American high school students, Obama implored the graduates not to forget those who are less fortunate, or the previous generations of people “who toiled and sweat and bled and died for us.”
“We owe them,” Obama said. “And the only way to pay back that debt is by making those same kinds of sacrifices and investments for the next generation.”
“We know that today, education is still the key to real and lasting freedom -- it is still true today,” she added. “So it is now up to us to cultivate that hunger for education in our own lives and in those around us.”
The first lady talked about her own family, recalling that while her parents did not go to college, “they were determined to see me and my brother and all the kids in our neighborhood get a good education.”
She said the graduates could “start small” in paying back their good fortune by volunteering or helping to launch a mentor program for children. “Or maybe you could think a little higher,” she went on, “maybe you could run for school board or Congress, or, yes, even President of the United States.”
Obama concluded with an inspirational message typical for graduation speeches. “As the history of this school has taught us, no dream is too big, no vision is too bold,” she said. “As long as we stay hungry for education and let that hunger be our North Star, there is nothing, graduates, nothing that we cannot achieve.”