Monday, June 14, 2010

Michelle Obama's Wise Words

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:

Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release June 11, 2010


Anonymous said...

I will go ahead and be the so-called "bad guy" here, but I really do get tired of the "hot air speeches" from these celebrities and states people.

"I came from a background just like you and so on and so forth...yada yada yada"

I never had that much smoke blown my way when I wore tassels.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree anon 11:04.

Not worth my time coming back to this blog with posts like this.

kb said...

Gotta agree. Nothing there but hot air and we've heard it all before. Some speechwriter's platitudes.

Anonymous said...

Some see the glass as half empty and others see it as half full! I found her comments inspiring and will be forwarding it on to my son that just graduated from Dunwoody High on May 21st. Our kids need to be reminded that they will join a long list of hard working people if they are to realize many of their dreams. Thanks for posting her remarks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you anon @11:04, those were my thoughts when I saw this speech. Credit, if any at all for this speech, should go to the individual on Michelle’s staff that actually wrote it. Michelle is not a very genuine person and it is hard to vision her being sincere as she delivered this speech.

Anonymous said...

*So* hard to fight the urge to flame back. But I will resist and just say thank you for posting this lovely speech.

Cerebration said...

I guess her words spoke to me since this is my story as well. I would have treasured words like that when I graduated high school. I ended up paying my own way through college with tips from waitressing. That's why to this day I'm a pretty generous tipper.

Also, I think a lot of parents need to internalize her words -

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.

That's the truest part of her speech.

Anonymous said...

Remember the Obamas send their daughters to Sidwell Friends, not a public school. They make millions a year and really do not understand the plight of the low and middle class. They bought their home in Chicago cheap through Chicago politics.

Actions speak louder than words.

Dunwoody Mom said...

It's too bad that people need to bring politics into everything. It was a graduation speech - a nice one at that.

Anonymous said...

Cere, the individual delivering a speech is probably more important than its content. This speech would have taken on more meaning if someone like you delivered it. Michelle just ain’t the one.

DM, politics were not mentioned. Just because the sincerity of Michelle is questioned, it is political?

Dunwoody Mom said...

Yes, politics were mentioned. How can you question Michelle Obama's sincerity? Do you know her what is in her heart? No, you don't. You made it about Michelle Obama, not Cere. Cere just posted that she found those words meaningful and somehow this thread was made poisonous. Sad, really.

Dekalbparent said...

In a part of the speech not posted here, she refers to her upbringing and that of her husband.

Her father was a worker at a water plant, and he kept working even after he was diagnosed with MS. Her mother and father 1)stayed together and 2)emphasized the need for education for her and her brother. I suspect she and her brother faced some harassment for working hard in school and "acting white". Both went to Princeton.

Whether you like his politics or not, Obama did not have a privileged childhood, either. He was shuffled around the world, was supported by a single mother for a while, and lived in a section of Honolulu that was not the greatest. I also lived there, and I know. He was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to a good school, but that school was also full of children of privilege, and he probably didn't have the easiest time there. Again, he had a mother and grandparents who emphasized the importance of getting an education and not quitting things because they are hard.

Yes, they have a fabulous home, and there may well have been Chicago politics involved. Their children go to the Friends' School. Their kids are definitely not living a life of deprivation, but that's not what this is about for me - it's about the message in the speech (and I really don't care who wrote it). The message is to keep going, even if it's hard. Ignore the voices of others who tell you you can't achieve because of what color your skin is, what gender you are, how little money your family has, where you live. The message is to believe in yourself, ask for help, surround yourself with friends who want you to succeed, find mentors, take risks and don't be afraid to fail.

Is this not what we are wanting the kids in DeKalb to do? Are many of us not assigning the poor state of DeKalb to students' failure to take education seriously and not bothering to push themselves?

Thank you for posting this, Cere.

Anonymous said...

Did any of the Obama's go to a Public University? NOPE! And her kids go to an elite private school. So much for putting faith in the Public Schools Obama.

Michelle went to Princeton and Barack to Columbia and Harvard...

I wonder where they got the $$$ from.

That silver spoon is still in full effect. Albeit with a faux tarnished feel to make me feel like your looking out for the "little People"

This Blog needs to stick to the keeping DeKalb County Schools accountable.

Not PUFF Pieces that bear no relevance to the school system.

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with many public universities. The point about the Friends' school is good, though. Easiest way to fix public education? Abolish all private schools and assign schools based on a lottery. The people running DCSS would be out of a job tomorrow, because they would be held accountable.

Dekalbparent said...

Barack went to Occidental before Columbia.

Not attending a public university is a sign of decadence and insincerity?

OK, let's see who else we need to write off...

Every president except Ford, Truman and Johnson. Einstein. Bill Gates. Zell Miller. Meryl Streep. John McCain. Me.

Where did I get the money? I worked hard in high school and got a National Merit Scholarship. I received a small scholarship from my (non-public) college. I started working after school and summers when I was 14, and saved most of the money. I worked two jobs in my college town. I took out a loan. I lived in an off-campus apartment and cooked my own meals. I babysat for faculty. I did not really enjoy some of my rich classmates. I do not believe myself to be decadent or insincere.

I have nothing against public colleges. My child goes to one. It is a great place for this child, and it has exactly the right courses for the field of work she aspires to.

Am I naive to think that the president and first lady can offer a vision to kids that might shake up some of the stereotypes they use to limit themselves? I think that Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and all the women who won the recent primaries can also offer a new and good vision. Kids need to believe they are not limited, that they CAN make something of themselves, and that hard work can pay off.

Dunwoody Mom said...

Not to continue to respond to Anonymous' inane ramblings, but what exactly is wrong with going to Princeton, Columbia or Harvard?

Anonymous said...

Note to self: Use care when discussing MO or you may upset the hen house.

Kim Gokce said...

I've always heard that one should only speak when words could improve on the silence. Therefore, ...

Anonymous said...

As I recall, during the campaign it was reported that President Obama didn't get all his loans paid off until he was in his late 30s. So I would venture to say he certainly understands what it like to have student loans hanging over your head. I don't believe anyone "gave" him anything. As for me, I went to a private college (undergrad) and 2 public universities (undergrad and grad) and got a great education at all 3. My daughter went to UGA for undergrad and Agnes Scott for grad school and also got a great education at both institutions. I think a lot depends on the person involved.