Our first lady recently gave the commencement speech to students at Anacostia Senior High School in Washington, D.C. Below are a few excerpts I found inspiring. I hope we can all take a minute to internalize her message, have faith in our teachers, our students and each other and move forward in our healing.
I know this has been a long journey to get here, full of warm memories, your friendships and teachers, and maybe not-so-warm memories with rules and papers and tests. And I know for some of you, there may have been times when you weren’t quite sure you’d make it.
But you are here. So I want you all to soak it up. Just soak it up. You’re here! You made it to this day. I want you all graduates to pat yourselves on the back. Do a little patting. I want you to be proud of what you’ve accomplished to get here today, because I know your families are proud of you. Your teachers are proud of you. And I am so proud of you all. I really am.
And looking out at all of you, I’m reminded that many of you have overcome a lot to be here, much like the community of Anacostia itself. Founded back in the 1800s for folks who worked at the Navy Yard across the river, Anacostia eventually became a place where people worked hard as clerks and civil servants, and as teachers and tradesmen, where families looked out for one another, where strong churches were the heart and soul of the community.
And yet, we also know that this community has had its share of struggles. And for a long time, Anacostia was segregated. In its early years, it was even illegal for African Americans to own land in parts of this community. And even after those barriers were torn down, others emerged. Poverty. Violence. Inequality.
But, despite these challenges, Anacostia continues to push forward. And that’s what I admire about this community and what I admire about all of you all. See, in the face of incredible struggles, you refuse to be defined by the hardships or the adversities. . . .
As all of you know, I’m talking about Frederick Douglass. (Applause.) We remember him today as one of America’s most eloquent and beloved leaders. But I want you all to just think for a moment about what it took for Frederick Douglass to become that kind of leader. Just think about it. I want you to think about the odds he faced when he was your age. This is a man who was born into slavery. His mom died when he was a boy. He never knew his father. Because it was illegal to educate slaves, he taught himself how to read and write.
And when he was just a couple of years older than you all are today, he escaped from slavery, traveled all the way to England, and made friends in Britain who eventually bought his freedom.
After he returned to America, Frederick Douglass became a leading abolitionist, an advisor to President Lincoln, and an inspiration to people of every creed and color, fighting for equality not just for African Americans, but for women and others, until his final days.
So I tell you this story because it is one of the best examples in our history of the American spirit. It’s an example of someone picking themselves up in the face of adversity, persevering through thick and thin, and proving to the world that nothing can stop a person from pursuing their dream. And that’s the same perseverance, the same character and the spirit that I know we have in so many of you.
I imagine that for some of you all, getting this far hasn’t been easy. Perhaps there were those who wanted to write you off, maybe because of assumptions they made about you or your school or your community. But every day you’re proving them wrong. You're proving that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you or what you can achieve. The only thing that matters, rather, is what you think about yourself and what you’re willing to do to achieve your goals. That's all that matters. (Applause.) How hard are you willing to work, how big are you willing to dream? . . .
Maybe you feel like no one has your back, like you’ve been let down by people so many times that you’ve stopped believing in yourself. Maybe you feel like your destiny was written the day you were born and you ought to just rein in your hopes and scale back your dreams.
But if any of you are thinking that way, I’m here to tell you, stop it. Don't do that. Don’t ever scale back your dreams. And don’t ever set limits on what you can achieve. And don’t think for one single moment that your destiny is out of your hands, because no one’s in control of your destiny but you. And it is never too late. You can do anything you put your minds to –- and I mean absolutely anything. It’s important for you all to know this. (Applause.)
But what is true is that building a purposeful life for yourself is never easy. No one achieves success overnight. You know life doesn’t work that way. Anything worth having takes time and perseverance. You’re going to have to push yourselves beyond your limits. You’re going to have to step outside of those comfort zones. You’re going to have to ask for help when you need it.
More importantly, part of being a mature and functioning adult in this society is realizing that life is a series of tradeoffs. If you want a career that pays a good salary, then you have to work hard. You’ve got to be on time; you’ve got to finish what you start; you have to always keep your word. If you want a life free from drama, then you can’t hang out with people who thrive on drama. (Applause.) You have to pick your friends wisely, pick your friends -- surround yourself with people who share your values and your goals. . . .
So today, to all the family members, this is your day, too. So we got to give the family members a round of applause. (Applause.)
And if you’re anything like my parents were when I graduated from high school, I can imagine how you must be feeling today. I know you’re proud. I know you’re a little relieved. (Laughter.)
But I suspect that some of you may also be feeling a little nervous. Maybe you’re worried about the tough job market, and how your child will find a job in this economy. Maybe you’re anxious about how you’re going to pay tuition. Maybe you’re hesitant about having your child move away from home to attend college. Or, if your kids are the first in your family to go to college, you may be wondering how you’re supposed to help them navigate experiences you’ve never had.
I understand those worries, because my parents had similar worries. See, my parents didn’t have the money to cover college tuition for me and my brother. Neither of my parents went to college or had any idea how to support us.
But, family members, know this: You don’t have to have lived the kind of life you want your kids to live to help them excel. Your kids don’t need you to be a doctor or a lawyer. Your kids don’t need you to be rich and famous. What they need from you is your wisdom. What they need from you is your support. What they need from you is love, that unconditional love -- (applause) -- the kind of love that lets them know that you will be there for them, no matter what. That’s all your kids need.===
Visit the link below to read Michelle's entire speech:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release June 11, 2010
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT ANACOSTIA SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY