President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, about the economy and to promote a proposed Labor Department rule that would make more workers eligible for overtime
First Lady Michelle Obama smiles as she is introduced by Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov before receiving an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio
Maura Zurick: First Lady Michelle Obama Urges Oberlin College Graduates To Make A Difference
First Lady Michelle Obama told nearly 700 Oberlin College graduates Monday to wake up and “play your part in our great American story.” Obama urged the class of 2015 to volunteer for campaigns or “better yet, run for office yourselves.” She encouraged the graduates to not shy away from the clamor and polarization of the real world and told them to face the revolutions of their time: climate change, economic inequality, human rights and criminal justice reform. “Today, I want to urge you to actively seek out the most contentious, polarized, gridlocked places you can find,” she said in her 25-minute remarks to graduates, family members and spectators in Tappan Square.
“Because so often, throughout our history, those have been the places where progress really happens –- the places where minds are changed, lives transformed, where our great American story unfolds.” Zoe Madonna, an East Asian studies graduate, called the first lady brilliant. “This is going to be a story that I can tell 50 years from now about the time the first lady spoke at my graduation, and I really enjoyed that it wasn’t a pat-yourself-on-the-back speech,” Madonna said. “Usually when dignitaries come, they keep their real selves, real opinions quiet, but you could hear what she really thought, what she really wants for us shining through in her speech.”
The First Lady at Tuskegee University, May 09, 2015
“…… The road ahead is not going to be easy. It never is, especially for folks like you and me. Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away. So there will be times, just like for those Airmen, when you feel like folks look right past you, or they see just a fraction of who you really are.
The world won’t always see you in those caps and gowns. They won’t know how hard you worked and how much you sacrificed to make it to this day – the countless hours you spent studying to get this diploma, the multiple jobs you worked to pay for school, the times you had to drive home and take care of your grandma, the evenings you gave up to volunteer at a food bank or organize a campus fundraiser. They don’t know that part of you.
Instead they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world. And my husband and I know how frustrating that experience can be. 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.
And all of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry. It can feel isolating. It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter – that you’re like the invisible man that Tuskegee grad Ralph Ellison wrote about all those years ago. And as we’ve seen over the past few years, those feelings are real. They’re 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.
But, graduates, today, I want to be very clear that those feelings are not an excuse to just throw up our hands and give up. Not an excuse. They are not an excuse to lose hope. To succumb to feelings of despair and anger only means that in the end, we lose.
But here’s the thing – our history provides us with a better story, a better blueprint for how we can win. 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.”
Posted already …. but these words can never be posted enough.
@FLOTUS: These @TuskegeeUniv alums met Eleanor Roosevelt during her historic visit in 1941 to fly with the #TuskegeeAirmen
The First Lady’s Commencement Address at Tuskegee University
Thank you all. (Applause.) Thank you so much. (Applause.) Let’s let our graduates rest themselves. You’ve worked hard for those seats! (Applause.)
Let me start by thanking President Johnson for that very gracious introduction, and for awarding me with this honorary degree from an extraordinary institution. I am proud to have this degree — very proud. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
I want to recognize Major General Williams; Congresswoman Sewell; Zachary; Kalauna; to all of the trustees, the faculty, the staff here at Tuskegee University. Thank you — thank you so much for this warm welcome, this tremendous hospitality. And I’m so glad to be here. (Applause.)
Before I begin, I just want to say that my heart goes out to everyone who knew and loved Eric Marks, Jr. I understand he was such a talented young man, a promising aerospace engineer who was well on his way to achieving his dream of following in the footsteps of the Tuskegee Airmen. And Eric was taken from us far too soon. And our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with his family, his friends, and this entire community. (Applause.)
I also have to recognize the Concert Choir. Wow, you guys are good! Well done! (Applause.) Beautiful song. (Applause.) And I have to join in recognizing all the folks up in the stands — the parents, siblings, friends — (applause) — so many others who have poured their love and support into these graduates every step of the way. Yeah, this is your day. (Applause.) Your day. (Applause.)
Now, on this day before Mother’s Day, I’ve got to give a special shout-out to all the moms here. (Applause.) Yay, moms! And I want you to consider this as a public service announcement for anyone who hasn’t bought the flowers or the cards or the gifts yet — all right? I’m trying to cover you. (Laughter.) But remember that one rule is “keep mom happy.” (Laughter.) All right? (Applause.)
And finally, most of all, I want to congratulate the men and women of the Tuskegee University Class of 2015! (Applause.) T-U!
AUDIENCE: You know!
MRS. OBAMA: I love that. (Applause.) We can do that all day. (Laughter.) I’m so proud of you all. And you look good. (Applause.) Well done!
You all have come here from all across the country to study, to learn, maybe have a little fun along the way — from freshman year in Adams or Younge Hall — (applause) — to those late night food runs to The Coop. (Applause.) I did my research. (Applause.) To those mornings you woke up early to get a spot under The Shed to watch the Golden Tigers play. (Applause.) Yeah! I’ve been watching! (Laughter.) At the White House we have all kinds of ways. (Laughter.)
And whether you played sports yourself, or sang in the choir, or played in the band, or joined a fraternity or sorority — after today, all of you will take your spot in the long line of men and women who have come here and distinguished themselves and this university.
You will follow alums like many of your parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles — leaders like Robert Robinson Taylor, a groundbreaking architect and administrator here who was recently honored on a postage stamp. (Applause.) You will follow heroes like Dr. Boynton Robinson — (applause) — who survived the billy clubs and the tear gas of Bloody Sunday in Selma. The story of Tuskegee is full of stories like theirs — men and women who came to this city, seized their own futures, and wound up shaping the arc of history for African Americans and all Americans.
And I’d like to begin today by reflecting on that history — starting back at the time when the Army chose Tuskegee as the site of its airfield and flight school for black pilots. (Applause.)
Back then, black soldiers faced all kinds of obstacles. There were the so-called scientific studies that said that black men’s brains were smaller than white men’s. Official Army reports stated that black soldiers were “childlike,” “shiftless,” “unmoral and untruthful,” and as one quote stated, “if fed, loyal and compliant.”
So while the Airmen selected for this program were actually highly educated — many already had college degrees and pilots licenses — they were presumed to be inferior. During training, they were often assigned to menial tasks like housekeeping or landscaping. Many suffered verbal abuse at the hands of their instructors. When they ventured off base, the white sheriff here in town called them “boy” and ticketed them for the most minor offenses. And when they finally deployed overseas, white soldiers often wouldn’t even return their salutes.
Just think about what that must have been like for those young men. Here they were, trained to operate some of the most complicated, high-tech machines of their day — flying at hundreds of miles an hour, with the tips of their wings just six inches apart. Yet when they hit the ground, folks treated them like they were nobody — as if their very existence meant nothing.
Now, those Airmen could easily have let that experience clip their wings. But as you all know, instead of being defined by the discrimination and the doubts of those around them, they became one of the most successful pursuit squadrons in our military. (Applause.) They went on to show the world that if black folks and white folks could fight together, and fly together, then surely — surely — they could eat at a lunch counter together. Surely their kids could go to school together. (Applause.)
You see, those Airmen always understood that they had a “double duty” — one to their country and another to all the black folks who were counting on them to pave the way forward. (Applause.) So for those Airmen, the act of flying itself was a symbol of liberation for themselves and for all African Americans.
One of those first pilots, a man named Charles DeBow, put it this way. He said that a takeoff was — in his words — “a never-failing miracle” where all “the bumps would smooth off… [you’re] in the air… out of this world… free.”
And when he was up in the sky, Charles sometimes looked down to see black folks out in the cotton fields not far from here — the same fields where decades before, their ancestors as slaves. And he knew that he was taking to the skies for them — to give them and their children something more to hope for, something to aspire to.
And in so many ways, that never-failing miracle — the constant work to rise above the bumps in our path to greater freedom for our brothers and sisters — that has always been the story of African Americans here at Tuskegee. (Applause.)
Just think about the arc of this university’s history. Back in the late 1800s, the school needed a new dormitory, but there was no money to pay for it. So Booker T. Washington pawned his pocket watch to buy a kiln, and students used their bare hands to make bricks to build that dorm — and a few other buildings along the way. (Applause.)
A few years later, when George Washington Carver first came here for his research, there was no laboratory. So he dug through trash piles and collected old bottles, and tea cups, and fruit jars to use in his first experiments.
Generation after generation, students here have shown that same grit, that same resilience to soar past obstacles and outrages — past the threat of countryside lynchings; past the humiliation of Jim Crow; past the turmoil of the Civil Rights era. And then they went on to become scientists, engineers, nurses and teachers in communities all across the country — and continued to lift others up along the way. (Applause.)
And while the history of this campus isn’t perfect, the defining story of Tuskegee is the story of rising hopes and fortunes for all African Americans.
And now, graduates, it’s your turn to take up that cause. And let me tell you, you should feel so proud of making it to this day. And I hope that you’re excited to get started on that next chapter. But I also imagine that you might think about all that history, all those heroes who came before you — you might also feel a little pressure, you know — pressure to live up to the legacy of those who came before you; pressure to meet the expectations of others.