Michelle Obama has always used her platform to support young people in the United States. From her healthy eating initiatives during her time in the White House to reading books to kids during the coronavirus pandemic, the former First Lady always seems to show up when the youth of our country needs her most.
She did it once again on June 7 as one of the many high-profile speakers in YouTube’s Dear Class of 2020 commencement program aimed at high school and college graduates.
“Over the past couple of months, our foundation has been shaken,” Obama said. “Not just by a pandemic that stole too many of our loved ones, upended our daily lives and sent tens of millions into unemployment, but also by the rumbling of the age-old fault lines that our country was built on. The lines of race and power that are now, once again, so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with.”
She continued, “If any of you are scared or confused or angry or just plain overwhelmed by it all, if you feel like you’re searching for a lifeline just to steady yourself, you are not alone. I am feeling all of that too. I think we all are.”
“What’s happening right now is the direct results of decades of unaddressed prejudice an inequality. The truth is, when it comes to all those tidy stories of hard work and self-determination that we like to tell ourselves about America, well, the reality is a lot more complicated than that,” she said. “Because for too many people in this country, no matter how hard they work, there are structural barriers working against them that just make the road longer and rockier. And sometimes it’s almost impossible to move upward at all. Because what if you’re required to work during a pandemic, but don’t have enough protective equipment or health insurance from your employer, or paid sick leave? What is more essential: your work or your life? If you don’t feel safe driving your own car in your own neighborhood? Or going for a jog, or buying some candy at 7-Eleven, or birdwatching? If you can’t even approach the police without fearing for your life, then how do you even begin to chart your own course?”
But Obama wasn’t about to leave students hanging about how to channel their energy and their emotions. She left the class of 2020 with a few lessons to remember as they embark on new chapters:
- “Life will always be uncertain.”
- “Treating people right will never, ever fail you.”
- “Share your voice with the rest of the world.”
- “Anger is a powerful force; it can be a useful force. But left on its own, it will only corrode and destroy and sow chaos on the inside and out. But when anger is focused, when it’s channeled into something more, that is the stuff that changes history.”
Watch Michelle Obama’s full speech, above.
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