Recently, First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a passionate speech to 600 graduates and several thousand supporters at the historically black, Bowie State University (BSU) commencement ceremony, in Maryland.
After being awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law from BSU, Mrs. Obama spoke to the graduates about their perseverance. She called upon a communal responsibility to serve and support others, making it very clear that our lives depend on the fight to educate ourselves and our youth for future generations to come.
“More than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of ‘separate but equal,’ when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper. Recognizing that there is still so much work to do the First Lady acknowledged that today, one in three African American students drop out of high school, and only one and five African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 have received a college degree. The President has worked alongside Education Secretary Arne Duncan to help reverse this trend. Since the year 2000, the number of students attending “dropout” factories has been reduced by a million and the number of African American students enrolling in college has grown nearly 10%.
Citing abolitionist Frederick Douglas, First Lady Michelle Obama reiterated his point that “education means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of the truth, the only light by which men can be free.” This is a message that helps to guide President Obama’s ambitious goal for America to have highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.
One of the summer interns in our office, a student at Howard University, had the opportunity to witness the First Lady’s speech and said it “more than just words. She encouraged young African American students, at all institutions to make education—educating ourselves and others in our community—a priority.”
The First Lady charged the 2013 graduating class to continue the legacy of Bowie State’s founders who viewed education as “freedom… political empowerment… [an opportunity] to articulate an informed opinion.” Both the President and the First Lady recognize that these graduates are the most recent examples of excellence.
Daion Stanford is a Junior Administration and Justice student at Howard University. She is currently a Summer Intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.