Strength in diversity: First Lady of the United States uplifts in commencement speech

First Lady Michelle Obama beginning her commencement address. Photo credit: CCNY School of Education Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CCNYSoE/?fref=photo

First Lady Michelle Obama beginning her commencement address. Photo credit: CCNY School of Education

FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA achieved a number of things during her final commencement address as First Lady at The City College of New York (CCNY) on June 3, 2016.

As the first woman of colour to be First Lady, it was fitting that she chose to speak at a college that boasts one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation with over 40 per cent first-generation college students and almost 40 per cent non-native English speakers.

As the President eloquently said, at this school, you represent more than 150 nationalities.  You speak more than 100 different languages.  You represent just about every possible background -– every color and culture, every faith and walk of life.  And you’ve taken so many different paths to this moment.

Maybe your family has been in this city for generations, or maybe, like my family, they came to this country centuries ago in chains.  Maybe they just arrived here recently, determined to give you a better life.

Without mentioning any names, she hit back at the divisive campaigning helmed by Donald Trump through celebrating America’s strength in diversity, its accomplishments in the arts and sciences by children of immigrants, and the possibilities.And here in America, we don’t give in to our fears.  We don’t build up walls to keep people out because we know that our greatness has always depended on contributions from people who were born elsewhere but sought out this country and made it their home -– from innovations like Google and eBay to inventions like the artificial heart, the telephone, even the blue jeans; to beloved patriotic songs like “God Bless America,” like national landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and, yes, the White House -– both of which were designed by architects who were immigrants.

Finally, what she did amazingly was inspire.

“It’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages,” said Obama, recalling how, as a college dean,  she witnessed students with every advantage crumble when they come across their first disappointment.

“They had every material possession a college kid could want –- cars, computers, spending money. But when some of them got their first bad grade, they just fell apart.  They lost it, because they were ill-equipped to handle their first encounter with disappointment or falling short.”

Obama indicated that this was just the beginning of many challenges to come.

You’ll have unreasonable bosses and difficult clients and patients. You’ll experience illnesses and losses, crises and setbacks that will come out of nowhere and knock you off your feet.  But unlike so many other young people, you have already developed the resilience and the maturity that you need to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep moving through the pain, keep moving forward.  You have developed that muscle.

She even made a final call towards strengthening the country’s public education. Not a coincidence as CCNY was established as a free institution dedicated to overcoming barriers to advancement, continuing its mission of making education accessible and keeping tuition affordable.

Public education is our greatest pathway to opportunity in America.  So we need to invest in and strengthen our public universities today, and for generations to come. That is how you will do your part to live up to the oath that you all will take here today –- the oath taken by generations of graduates before you to make your city and your world “greater, better, and more beautiful.”

It was Obama’s 23rd commencement address as First Lady, and 3rd address for the Class of 2016.

Watch her full address here:

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