Michelle Obama (2013) spoke at the Bowie State University commencement proceedings and talked about graduates committing to the “building ladders of opportunity for anyone willing to work for it” (p. 1) and the responsibilities of graduates to carry on the work and role that they inherited by becoming graduates. The argument she seemed to be making was that for many African-Americans the challenge of attending (and graduating) from college was just too much to bother with; that they would much rather sit on the couch “for hours playing video games, watching tv” (p. 2) and that “instead of dreaming about being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper” (p.2). Her message was that young African-Americans seemed to have lost that drive, that ‘hunger’ that earlier generations showed in their determination to obtain an education. She backed up her statements by providing examples such as the statement that she made about the first students at Bowie State University; the students who had displayed the “same kind of grit and determination that drove those first students at this school” (p. 3).
What Michelle hopes the graduates accomplish is that they will display the same type of grit and determination, that they will be examples to other African-American youth as to what can be accomplished with a little bit of “grit and determination.”
Michelle also provided other displays of the type of behavior that she expected of the graduates of Bowie State, displays by iconic individuals such as Thurgood Marshall, and Dr. King and their efforts to lead “historic marches, protests, and boycotts” (p. 2) telling students that they persevered even though they received piles of hate mail and death threats.
Obama also used the nine young men and women who had to endure the hate and anger of other students in Little Rock, Arkansas just to attend school with white children.
Michelle also brought home the fact that a Bowie State University graduating student Ariel Williams-Edwards already displayed that type of determination and grit. Michelle told the crowd of students that Ariel’s mother struggled with substance abuse, and that both Ariel and Ariel’s sister were sent to live with their grandmother, but that Ariel persevered and graduated against the odds stacked against her.
Mrs. Obama implores the students to “take a stand” (p. 5) to change the things that…