The commencement speaker at my school’s graduation this year was U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He delivered a very entertaining and thought-provoking speech, but when I heard that Michelle Obama delivered the commencement speech at Spelman College, I could not help but feel a little bit jealous.
On May 14, 2011, Michelle delivered the commencement speech at the traditionally black women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. In her speech, Michelle discussed important historical events in the school’s past and mentioned many famous almuni members, such as LaTanya Richardson, Eva Rutland, Keshia Knight Pulliam, and Alberta Williams King. In her speech, Michelle warned the graduating seniors that their education is not something they should take for granted nor is it a “gift with which you can do whatever you please. [Instead,] it is a commitment that comes with a certain set of obligations, obligations that don’t end when you march through that arch today.”
In my opinion, one of the most inspiring parts of Michelle’s speech was when she told the graduates how to respond to those who tried to hold them back from their dreams.
“Take a deep breath, because it’s going to need to be deep, and I want you to think about all those women who came before you … [and] think about how they didn’t sit around bemoaning their lack of resources and opportunities and affirmation,” she said. “They didn’t go around pointing fingers and making excuses for why they couldn’t win a case or soar above the horizon. And instead of focusing on what they didn’t have, they focused on what they did have: their intellect, their courage, their determination, their passion. You have an obligation to see each setback as a challenge and as an opportunity to learn and grow. You have an obligation to face whatever life throws your way with confidence and with hope.”
To me, these seem like very important words, and words that our generation should hold near and dear to our hearts. As a recent graduate myself, I know how easy it can be to become discouraged when things do not turn out exactly how I wanted them to. For example, I applied for a job in my hometown that I really wanted and that I thought would be the perfect beginning job. I did not get the job, but shortly afterward, I was offered a job that would allow me to teach English in Spain for a year: my true dream job.
So, here’s my challenge to all of you recent college graduates: don’t ever give up. This is the time in our lives when we should spread our wings and try. If at first we don’t succeed, oh well, we can try again. That’s what this age is all about.
And what should we do when we reach our goals and become successful in whatever it is that we set out to do? According to the First Lady, “as [we] climb those [ladders to success, we only need to] remember to reach down and pull others up behind you.” Sounds like good advice to me.