Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University, 2015 Commencement Speech

Last Updated: May 16, 2024

Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University, 2015 Commencement Speech

Michelle Obama at Tuskegee University, 2015 Commencement Speech

Introduction: Celebrating Accomplishments

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for that warm welcome. And let me say, it is such a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you today.

I want to start by thanking President Johnson for that very kind introduction, as well as the Board of Trustees, the faculty, staff, and students here at Tuskegee University. Congratulations to the Class of 2015!

Tuskegee’s Legacy: A Rich History

Let me begin by taking you back to the very beginning.

You see, graduates, today, you join the ranks of some of the most accomplished men and women our nation has ever known—men and women who came to this school, just like you, in search of a better life and in many cases, a chance to better the lives of others. Men and women who saw education as a vehicle to a better future and who used their degrees to make a difference in their communities and our world.

Tuskegee’s legacy of leadership is extraordinary. From Booker T. Washington to George Washington Carver to Lionel Richie, and of course the Tuskegee Airmen, who rose above brutal discrimination to become some of the best pilots in the world and defenders of our freedom. This legacy is yours now, and it’s your job to carry it forward.

Personal Reflections: Overcoming Challenges

So I want to begin today by reflecting on that history, and on my own journey.

You see, graduates, I know that this journey hasn’t always been easy. I know you’ve had to overcome a lot to make it to this day. There were the struggles to balance classes, work, and family responsibilities. There were the sacrifices you and your families made to finance your education. And for many of you, I know there was the added burden of wondering whether you’d ever get to see this day at all.

And then there were those who questioned our every step; people who told us we weren’t smart enough, we didn’t belong here, we couldn’t cut it. Those doubts may never completely go away, but after everything you’ve achieved here at Tuskegee, I know you’re more than prepared to prove them wrong.

Identity and Representation: The Challenge of Being First

And while the issues that I faced were different from yours, my journey has been similar in many ways. As some of you may know, I wasn’t raised with the privileges and opportunities that many of you have had. My parents were working-class folks who poured everything they had into my brother and me. Neither of them had a college degree, but they had a vision for us, and they believed in us. And when I decided to pursue higher education, they did everything they could to help me achieve my dreams.

But even with their support, there were plenty of times when I felt overwhelmed and isolated as one of the only black students at Princeton University. I often worried that I wasn’t prepared enough, that I didn’t belong, and that I wouldn’t succeed. But I worked hard, I focused on my studies, and I sought out mentors who believed in me and pushed me to reach my full potential. And eventually, I found my place.

Leadership and Responsibility: Making a Difference

That’s why it’s so important to me to stand here today as First Lady and say this to all of you: You are more than capable of creating your own path, and you will find your way, just as I did. I know it won’t always be easy, and there will be times when you feel like giving up. But I want you to remember that there are people who believe in you, who see your potential, and who are rooting for your success.

As you leave Tuskegee, I urge you to embrace that legacy of leadership and service that is such a part of this university’s history. Use your education to make a difference in your communities. Mentor the next generation of students. Stand up for what you believe in, even when it’s difficult. And always, always remember where you came from and the people who helped you get here.

Conclusion: A Call to Action

So, graduates, as you move on from this place, carry your experiences with you. Remember the lessons you’ve learned and the people who have supported you. Embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and know that you have everything you need to succeed.

Congratulations again to the Class of 2015. I cannot wait to see the amazing things you will accomplish. Thank you.

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