First lady Michelle Obama gave a commencement speech at Tuskegee University’s graduation ceremony Saturday in which she discussed the school's importance in African American history and how to overcome challenges, including racism, in America today.
Tuskegee University, in Alabama, is the first stop in a series of graduation ceremonies Mrs. Obama will be speaking at this year as part of her Reach Higher initiative, including Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio; and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Preparatory High School (King College Prep) in Chicago, Ill..
Tuskegee has a reputation as one of America’s top historically black universities. Throughout Saturday's speech Obama referenced the history of the school. She described the humiliation that the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American pilots of World War II, endured, and she told the story of the school’s first students making bricks by hand when they received no funding for construction.
"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," Obama said. "You will follow alums like many of your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, leaders like Robert Robinson Taylor (first accredited African American architect)...You will follow heroes like Dr. (Amelia) Boynton Robinson, who survived the billy clubs and teargas on 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," the first lady continued.
She acknowledged that the racism in America's past still exists, mentioning the "challenges" facing those in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. "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 those age-old problems are stubborn, and they haven't fully gone away," Obama said.
Obama has returned to the topic of race relations in education, particularly Brown vs. Board of Education, many times in past commencement addresses she has given, including speeches at Dillard University and Bowie State University.
She also told the graduates that while the future would not be easy, they already had all the tools they would need to succeed.
"If you rise above the noise and the pressures that surround you, if you stay true to who you are and where you come from, if you have faith in God's plan for you then you will continue fulfilling your duty to the people all across this country," Obama said.
The idea of staying true to oneself when planning for the future featured prominently in today's speech.
“You've come a long way, you are now graduates; stay true to yourselves - be real, sincere, and authentic,” Obama said.
This is only the second time a first lady has visited the school. Previously, Eleanor Roosevelt visited in 1941 when she showed her support for the Tuskegee Airmen by flying with a black Army pilot. Several alumni who were in attendance for Ms. Roosevelt’s visit in 1941 were also at Obama’s speech.
"This is such a dream come true for me to have her here,” Tuskegee graduate Sarah Jordan told the Associated Press. “She's a role model for everyone. It means everything especially because I am an aspiring lawyer. I definitely look up to her.”