What we can learn from Michelle Obama's commencement speech
Last weekend, First Lady Michelle Obama gave the commencement address at Alabama’s historically Black Tuskegee University. Her speech was inspiring, nuanced, and filled with wisdom on self-love and self-esteem. But most notably, the First Lady discussed the very real effects of racism in the United States, both from a personal and cultural perspective — and what she had to say was incredibly important.
Tuskegee University has a rich, complex history, and the FLOTUS more than did justice to it in her address. She began by discussing the history of the school’s airfield and flight school, where the Tuskegee Airmen — the first African-American pilots of World War II — received their training. The pilots were treated terribly during the war, and were considered inferior for their race; but went on to become one of the most successful pursuit squadrons in the military. From there, the First Lady tells anecdotal stories about both her and President Barack Obama’s experiences with racism today, and then provides insight into how she deals with racial injustice.
Racism (particularly institutionalized racism) has been an incredibly contentious topic lately, but discussing it and working to change it has never been as essential. The first step to achieving this is to listen and to learn, and to look to history to inform our present. The First Lady’s speech was both empowering and sobering, but is perhaps most important for its potential to lift up those most affected by racism, and to spark conversation on how we talk about race.
The FLOTUS’ address is well worth a listen, particularly for any recent grad struggling with finding their place in the “real world.” But likewise, it truly has some gems that we can all benefit from hearing.
Here are just a few of her best quotes.
On the pressure to achieve greatness
On not letting others control your worth
On being a Black woman in the political spotlight
On the importance of staying true to yourself
On making your own choices
On what it’s like to be Black in the US
On the importance of never giving up
Read the speech in its entirety right here.