The First Lady of the United State (FLOTUS) Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at the 2016 graduation at Jackson State University will go down as one of the most memorable moments in the history of JSU graduations.
Congressman Bennie Thompson (D) described her as the “biggest star” to grace the field of the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, a place that Obama described as a “once steele and concrete tribute to segregation.” Referencing a time when blacks were not allowed to play in or attend events at the stadium.
As the FLOTUS took the podium, her delivery was passionate. Her words…captivating. The 35,000 onlookers and 800 graduates clung to her every word as she recanted the storied history of the stadium, warned against the problems of recent Mississippi legislation that legalized discrimination, and challenged and empowered everyone to rise above the fray and let excellence be the answer to frustrations.
Here are a few of our favorite FLOTUS commencement speech quotes.
Dignity. Integrity. Excellence.
“By simply displaying sportsmanship, those players and fans joined the long line of heroes who made history in this country in our school houses, our department stores, our lunch counters and everywhere else. All using the same time tested approach that has always moved this country forward. They didn’t stoop to the level of those who sought to oppress them. Just the opposite. They rose up. The combated small mindedness with dignity, integrity and excellence.”
Rise Above The Fray
“When I hear words like dignity and excellence, I think about my husband. As I’ve walked this journey with Barack, I’ve gotten a pretty good look at what it means to rise above the fray. What it means to set your eyes on the horizon and devote your life to making life better for those who will come after you.”
When They Go Low, I Go High
“The question isn’t whether you are going to come face to face with these issues. The question is how are you going to respond when you do? Are you going to throw up your hands and say that progress will never come? Are you going to get angry and lash out? Are you going to turn inward and just give in to despair and frustration? Or, are you going to take a deep breath, straighten your shoulders, lift up your head and do as Barack Obama has always done? He says, “When they go low, I go high.”
“That’s the choice that Barack and I have made over the years. That’s how we’ve remained sane all these years. We simply do not allow space in our hearts, minds or souls for darkness. Instead we chose faith. Faith in ourselves and the power of hard work. Faith in our God, whose love sustains us every single day. That’s what we choose. We chose love.”
“And we chose excellence. We choose to tune out all the noise and strive for excellence in everything that we do. Not cutting corners. No taking shortcuts. No whining. Excellence is the most powerful answer you can give to the doubters and haters.”
Did You Vote?
“Several months ago I was meeting with a group of teenage girls in Washington D.C. and one of them asked me, “What do you think Dr. King would think about everything that’s going on today?” And I told her that none of us could really answer that question, but I said Dr. King would probably answer it with a simple question and that is …Did you vote? I told the young women that I think Dr. King would be very concerned after so many folks like Medgar Evers and so many others gave their lives for the right to vote and today almost in every election, more than half of young African Americans have essentially disenfranchised themselves.”
“If we fail to exercise our right to vote, I guarantee that so much of the progress that we’ve fought for will be under threat. Congress will still be gridlocked. State houses will continue to roll back voting rights and write discrimination into law. We see it right here in Mississippi. Just two weeks ago, we saw how swiftly progress can hurdle backwards. How easy it is to single out a small group and marginalize them because of who they are and who they love.”
“When you encounter small slights or small people, I hope and I pray that you stand tall and respond with dignity and grace, because no one, no one ever succeeds in this world by playing small.”
Live A Life Worthy of Retelling
“We are counting on you to live lives worthy of retelling. Lives that will inspire our next generation to walk in the path of righteousness and doing the work to fulfill their dreams.”