Tag Archives: Commencement

First Lady Michelle Obama Speaks at Anacostia Senior High School Commencement

Posted by: Audiegrl

First Lady Michelle Obama sits with class valedictorian Jordan Smiley during the graduation ceremonies for Anacostia Senior High School on June 11, 2010 in Washington, DC. Mrs. Obama delivered the seventy second commencement address to the once segregated high school, with 146 graduates in the Class of 2010. Ninety percent of the graduates have been accepted into college. (Photos by Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America)

HP~Her voice cracking and eyes filled with tears, first lady Michelle Obama remembered her parents’ sacrifices for their two children and how they pushed for success as she urged high school graduates to claim their destiny.

Mrs. Obama addressed students, parents and faculty of The Academies at Anacostia at the school’s graduation ceremony Friday at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall, not far from the White House. She said she would not have been standing at the podium if her parents had not encouraged her and her brother, Craig Robinson, to dream big.

“I remember my mom pushing me and my brother to do things she’d never done herself; things she’d been afraid to do herself,” the first lady said. “What I can remember is my father getting up every day and going to work at the water filtration plant, even after he was diagnosed with MS, even after it got hard for him to button his shirt, and to get up and walk. See, I remember my parents sacrificing for us, pouring everything they had into us, being there for us, encouraging us to reach for a life they never knew.”

Michelle Obama’s father, Fraser, is deceased. Her mother, Marian Robinson, lives at the White House with the first family.

She also encouraged the graduates to give themselves a pat on the back.

“You have to understand that there are a lot of people out there who believe in you. I believe in you. The president of the United States believes in you,” said Obama, who spoke for about 25 minutes. “When times are hard for us, you inspire us. You keep us going. We are expecting big things from you in the years to come. Big things.”

The first lady urged students to surround themselves with the right friends, travel abroad and to continue to pursue higher education.

“You don’t have to be on a college campus to educate yourself,” she said. “There are opportunities all over D.C. to enrich your lives and enrich your minds.”

It was Mrs. Obama’s second address to Anacostia students. She visited the school during the last academic year to mentor female students. The school is in one of the poorest sections of Washington and has struggled in the past, leading to its transfer to a charter school operator.

According to the graduation program, 164 students received diplomas during the ceremony. More than 90 percent of the graduates have received college acceptance letters. Mrs. Obama said school attendance and college acceptances had risen significantly.

Graduate Jordan Smiley, the Class of 2010 valedictorian who will attend Hampton University this fall, told the first lady that the student body looks to her family as examples of what it can achieve.

“Today we are proof that change, whether good or bad, can be beneficial,” Smiley said in his speech. “We are writing history and we have the choice to determine what the future says about us.”

Remarks by the First Lady at Anacostia Senior High School Commencement Ceremony

Members of the audience sing the national anthem during the Anacostia Senior High School commencement ceremony at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)


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First Lady Michelle Obama Speaks at the 2010 George Washington University Commencement

Posted by: Audiegrl
Written by Kori Schulman

“Keep going. Keep giving. Keep engaging.”

First Lady Michelle Obama greets GWU graduate Zoe Petkanas, who won the school's student speaker competition, prior to giving the George Washington University commencement address on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. May 16, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

In the fall, the First Lady issued a challenge to George Washington University students, faculty, staff and trustees to perform 100,000 hours of community service, promising she’d speak at their graduation if they rose to it. They did and, as a woman of her word, Mrs. Obama delivered the commencement address to the Class of 2010 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

From digging neighbors out after “Snowmageddon” to restoring a local high school to running a clinic for those in need of medical aid to a host of global service projects – Mrs. Obama was impressed by what the George Washington University community did, but more, so how they did it. She asked that the graduates take on one more challenge:

So today, graduates, I have one more request to make of you, one more challenge, and that is: Keep going. Keep giving. Keep engaging.

I’m asking you to take what you’ve learned here and embrace the full responsibilities that a degree from an institution like GW gives you. I’m asking your generation to be America’s face to the world. It will make the world safer, it will make America stronger, and it will make you more competitive.

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The First Lady continued, encouraging global engagement through the story of a young woman that she met during her visit to Mexico last month who traveled to Vietnam to volunteer with children on a whim:

She described her days there as very “unfair” and “difficult.” She said there were days there “that [made] us feel meaningless.” But she also said there were days “…where I felt I could change the world.” And that trip made her realize she wanted to be a doctor. And when she returned to Mexico, she enrolled in medical school. But her journey led her to an important pivot point in her life. She said, and these are her words, “I realized that this is my country. This is where I belong and this is my culture, where I need to help.”

You see, that young woman, she went halfway around the world before she found her way home. And I suspect that something has — like that has happened to many of you.

And through Davina Durgana’s story, a young woman graduating that day, whose simple mission trip to El Salvador inspired her to take up the cause of human trafficking when she came back:

She found an internship that allowed her to work on an anti-human trafficking campaign, and she’s going to pursue graduate studies in human rights next year at the Sorbonne.

And by the way, Davina, she also serves as a Big Sister to a young girl in Anacostia; she volunteers with wounded warriors at Walter Reed; she helped run a Girl Scouts troop where she encouraged underprivileged girls to get involved; she volunteers as an EMT at the busiest fire department in the D.C. area, and convinced other classmates to join her –- and, somehow, she found time to graduate!

In closing, The First Lady touched on the historical significance of the commencement location as a landmark of change in this country:

In the end, the simple act of opening your mind and engaging abroad –- whether it’s in the heart of campus or in the most remote villages -– can change your definition of what’s possible.

And more importantly, you can change ours. See, after all, it’s your generation that always has –- often from the very Mall where we’re sitting right now. I mean, just look around you. It was on this Mall where young people marched for women’s rights. It was on this Mall where young people marched for civil rights. It was on this Mall where young people marched for peace, for equality, for awareness.

Decade after decade, young Americans who loved their country; and loved its ideals; who knew that it stood for something larger in the world; came here to this spot to wade into the rushing currents of history because they believed that they could change its course.

And on a cold January morning last year, many of you came here to wade in yourselves. It was the day my husband took the oath of office as President of the United States. And that day, he pledged to seek a new era of American engagement, and he asked each of us to embrace anew our duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world.

Now, I’m not a President. I’m just a citizen. But as a citizen, I’m asking you, as graduates of this global institution, to seize those responsibilities gladly. I’m asking you to fully embrace your role in the next vital chapter of our history. I’m asking you to play your part.

And from what I’ve seen from your class, I have no doubt that you will. Look, we believe in you so deeply. So, your new challenge begins now –- and it’s one that doesn’t end after 100,000 hours.

Students from George Washington University celebrate during their commencement ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

Sadly, as hopeful a day as it was for the thousands of George Washington students, the commencement began with a moment of silence for student Taylor Hubbard who died tragically the day before.  Read George Washington University President Steven Knapp’s statement at the University website.

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President Obama Speaks at Hampton University Commencement

AP~President Barack Obama, addressing graduates at historically black Hampton University on Sunday, said that it is the responsibility of all Americans to offer every child the type of education that will make them competitive in an economy in which just a high school diploma is no longer enough.

Obama told the nearly 1,100 graduates assembled in the university’s sun-splashed Armstrong Stadium that they have the added responsibility of being role models and mentors in their communities.

Clad in a blue gown, Obama recalled the university’s humble beginning in September 1861 as a school for escaped slaves who sought asylum after fleeing nearby plantations in the Confederate South. Obama said the founders recognized that, with the right education, such barriers as inequality would not persist for long.

“They recognized, as Frederick Douglass once put it, that ‘education means emancipation.’ They recognized that education is how America and its people might fulfill our promise,” said Obama, the first black U.S. president.

Drawing parallels to current challenges, Obama noted that Hampton’s graduates are leaving school as the economy rebounds from its worst downturn since the 1930s, and with the U.S. at war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama said education can help them manage the uncertainties of a 21st century economy.

For much of the last century, a high school diploma “was a ticket to a solid middle-class life,” he said. But no more, as jobs today often require at least a bachelor’s degree – or higher. To that end, Obama is pouring tens of billions of dollars into K-12 and higher education with an eye on raising standards and building the future workforce.

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President Obama Delivers Speech at the University of Michigan’s Spring Commencement

Posted by: Audiegrl
Written by Shama Hussain

“Because I Believe in You”

President Barack Obama delivers a commencement address to the University of Michigan 2010 class in Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 3, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

At the University of Michigan’s Spring Commencement, President Obama discussed the nature of politics in our democracy which he said has “never been for the thick-skinned or the faint-of-heart.” He talked about pundits and politicians who call each other all sorts of names and continue to debate about the role and size of government, but reminded the audience that “our experiment in democracy has worked better than any form of government on Earth.”

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The President talked about the importance of healthy debate to maintain a basic level of civility, reminding the audience that “we can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down.” He explained that over-the-top rhetoric and vilification sends signals to the extreme sides that violence is a justifiable response.

“You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it.  You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. Throwing around phrases like “socialists” and “Soviet-style takeover” and “fascist” and “right-wing nut” that may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, our political opponents, to authoritarian, even murderous regimes.

Now, we’ve seen this kind of politics in the past.  It’s been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation’s birth.  But it’s starting to creep into the center of our discourse.  And the problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized.  Remember, they signed up for it.  Michelle always reminds me of that. The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise.  It undermines democratic deliberation.  It prevents learning –- since, after all, why should we listen to a “fascist,” or a “socialist,” or a “right-wing nut,” or a left-wing nut”?

It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out.  It robs us of a rational and serious debate, the one we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation.  It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.”

President Barack Obama talks with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm during the University of Michigan commencement ceremony in Ann Arbor, Michigan, May 3, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The President encouraged the audience to actively seek information that challenges their beliefs in order to “begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from.”

“[I]f you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while.  If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website.  It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed.  But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.  It is essential for our democracy.”

He closed by saying that the nation’s destiny has never been certain and reminded them of their “ability to shape that destiny.”

“That is what makes us Americans -– our ability at the end of the day to look past all of our differences and all of our disagreements and still forge a common future.  That task is now in your hands, as is the answer to the question posed at this university half a century ago about whether a free society can still compete.

If you are willing, as past generations were willing, to contribute part of your life to the life of this country, then I, like President Kennedy, believe we can.  Because I believe in you.”

President Barack Obama receives an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, before delivering the commencement address to University of Michigan graduates, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Sneak Peek of the Commencement Challenge Finalists

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Written by: Lauren Paige

Starting on Monday the public will have a chance to weigh in on the six finalists in the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, but we wanted to give you a sneak peek of the schools today.

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Over the past few weeks students from the six finalist schools worked with Get Schooled to create a short three minute video demonstrating how their school best meets the criteria of the Commencement Challenge.  We’ll debut those videos and a short essay by each school on Monday morning on WhiteHouse.gov/Commencement.  Visitors to the site will have a chance to rate each finalist on a scale of 1-5 and President Obama will choose one of the top three highest rated schools to visit and deliver the commencement address.  Be sure to check back Monday morning to weigh in on the finalists!

Lauren Paige is Director of Special Projects for White House Communications.

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First Lady Michelle Obama To Deliver Three Commencement Addresses

Posted by: Audiegrl

First Lady Michelle Obama gave inspiration and encouragement in her commencement speech to the Class of 2009, the first to attend four full years at UC's newest campus in Merced.

Three colleges will host First Lady Michelle Obama as their commencement speaker. The White House announced the colleges selected on Tuesday:

On May 8th, the First Lady will address the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Established more than 130 years ago, the University began as the only state-supported institution of higher education for African Americans in Arkansas. Like many of the nation’s more than one-hundred historically black colleges and universities, the University has played a special role in enabling young people from many walks of life to further their education. While the University offers many different areas of study, it remains dedicated to the mission of providing educational opportunities to under-served communities particularly in the Arkansas Delta region. It is one of a small number of HBCUs that also are land-grant institutions and thus have a long history of preparing students for fields in agriculture, farming, and engineering. The University currently boasts an enrollment of more than 3500 students.

On May 16th, The George Washington University will host their graduation ceremonies in Washington DC. Mrs. Obama is scheduled to address this group provided the student body, faculty and staff complete the 100,000 hours of community service required during the 2009-2010 academic year. Mrs. Obama issued the challenge for these service hours in exchange for her commencement visit in September of 2009, during the first National Day of Service and Remembrance, which was the culmination of President Barack Obama’s “United We Serve” summer service initiative.

On June 11th, Mrs. Obama will address the Anacostia Senior High School Commencement, a DC public school that Mrs. Obama visited in the spring of 2009 in conjunction with her Women of Excellence event and her early mentoring activities as First Lady.

In 2009, Mrs. Obama spoke to the University of California, Merced’s first full senior class. She also addressed the Washington Math and Science Tech Public Charter High School Graduation in Washington DC.

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President Obama Announces Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge

Posted by: Audiegrl


The White House and the Department of Education have announced a new Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge and are inviting public schools across the country to compete to have President Obama speak at their graduation. At the beginning of the school year, the President encouraged students across the country to take responsibility for their education, study hard and graduate from high school. The Race to the Top High School Commencement challenge encourages schools to show how they are making great strides on personal responsibility, academic excellence and college readiness.

Applications must be completed by students and submitted by a high school’s Principal using the Commencement Challenge Application Form no later than Monday, March 15th at 11:59 pm EST. Each school may submit only one application and high schools must be public to apply. Following the application deadline, six finalists will be selected by the White House and Department of Education. These schools will then be featured on the White House website and the public will have an opportunity to vote for the three schools they think best meet the President’s goal. The President will select a national winner from these three finalists and visit the winning high school to deliver the commencement address to the class of 2010.

The application’s four essay questions focus on demonstrating how the school is helping prepare students to meet the President’s 2020 goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. Applications will be judged based on the school’s performance and dedication to providing students an excellent education that will prepare them to graduate ready for college and career choices. Each question must be answered in full to qualify and data that substantiates each answer is strongly encouraged.

In addition to the required essay responses, applicants are invited to submit the following optional supplemental materials:

  • A video — no more than 2 minutes in length — showing the school’s culture and character and highlighting how it is a model of educational success for other high schools around the country.
  • Supplemental data on key indicators such as attendance, student achievement, graduation rates and where available, college enrollment rates. This data may be presented in the form of tables, graphs or spreadsheets and should be used to help the school make the most compelling arguments possible.

Please use the Commencement Challenge Application Form to apply.

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