HARLEM, New York — Michelle Obama on Friday delivered the final commencement speech of her tenure as first lady at New York’s City College.
Mrs. Obama addressed more than 3,000 members of the Class of 2016 at the 169-year-old public college on Friday. She praised the school’s diversity, telling the graduates they’re “living, breathing proof that the American Dream endures in our time.”
City College President Lisa S. Coico presented an honorary doctorate of humane letters to the first lady.
City College of New York was founded in 1847 and has long prided itself on educating immigrants and those without the means of attending a private university. More than 40 percent of City College’s students are first-generation college students and half are from low-income households.
The college counts 10 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni.
The greatness of the United States, she mused, has “never come from folks who climbed the ladder of success or who happened to be born near the top and then pulled the ladder up after themselves.”
“No, uh-uh,” she continued, to applause. “Our greatness has always come from people who expect nothing and take nothing for granted, folks who work hard for what they have and then reach back and help others after them. That is your story, graduates, and that is the story of your families. And it’s the story of my family, too.”
The story of the U.S., the first lady continued, is one of “the son of Polish immigrants named Jonas Salk who toiled for years in a lab until he discovered a vaccine that saved countless lives. It’s the story of the son of Jamaican immigrants named Colin Powell who became a four-star general, secretary of state, and a role model for young people across the country.”
“And graduates, it’s the story that I witness every single day when I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful black young women head off to school waving goodbye to their father, the president of the United States, the son of a man from Kenya who came here to America for the same reasons as many of you: to get an education and improve his prospects in life,” she remarked.
While the United States’ founders “never could have imagined this day,” Obama said, “all of you are very much the fruits of their vision.”