Commencement Address by
Michelle Obama at North Carolina A&T State University
First Lady Michelle Obama joined the graduating class of 2012 to become
a part of the newest legion of North Carolina A&T State University
After delivering a motivational commencement address, Chancellor Harold
L. Martin Sr. awarded the first African American First Lady the
doctorate of humanities honorary degree for her commitment to public
Obama held 1,200 graduates and their loved ones so captivated during her
speech, she said, “I love you all,” and without missing a beat, the
graduates responded, “We love you, too.”
This year, the School of Graduate Studies awarded more than 250 master’s
and doctoral degrees, while the undergraduate schools and colleges
awarded nearly 950.
Senior Class President Davonta Woods spoke on behalf of the class and
gifted the university with a portrait of Dr. Samuel Proctor to hang in
“The commencement ceremony was nothing short of amazing. I felt the
excitement within the coliseum once I entered,” Student Government
Association President Emeritus Christian Robinson said.
Robinson received his bachelor’s in economics. He said Obama’s entrance
filled the coliseum with love and warmth for her.
“The First Lady's energy was felt by everyone present,” he said. “Her
"Aggie Pride" was perfect to the T! On that day we became legendary, I
am truly proud to say that I am an alumnus of this great university.”
Cora Mathewson received her master’s in English and African American
literature and in spite of having a 4.0 GPA, almost didn’t make it to
the commencement exercises.
“I had not planned to participate in the commencement activities, but
once I learned First Lady Michelle Obama would be the commencement
speaker, I decided to participate fully – stand in line and march across
the stage with all the other 1,200 graduates,” Mathewson said.
“Being in the presence of the first black First Lady was a monumental
event, a history making occasion that I will not soon forget.”
Obama made history as being the only First Lady the university has ever
hosted as a commencement speaker. In her address, she reminded Aggies
about the rich legacy of Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., David
Richmond and Joseph McNeil, The Greensboro Four/The A&T Four.
“I know that all of you know the story of the Greensboro Four and how
they changed the cours of our history, but since we have the nation
watching, let’s talk a little bit,” Obama said.
“It’s easy to forget that before they were known as heroes, they were
young people just like you. Even younger – they were freshmen here at
A&T,” Obama said.
Obama told the graduates and 15,000 spectators that the work, sweat and
passion poured into this country by the generations before them must now
be met with work, sweat and passion of their own. She told the graduates
that they have a responsibility to do more.
She used her own life as an example and shared that she earned her
bachelor of arts and her law degree, held a high paying job and still it
was not enough. She said her journey to completeness began with three
questions that she asked herself.
“The first question I asked myself was, ‘Who do I want to be?’ Not what
do I want to be, but who,” she said.
When people meet, they often introduce themselves and give a quick,
simple description of what they do. Obama says there is nothing wrong
with that, as it can be the cornerstone of a happy life.
“But I also want to stress that your job title and responsibilities,
those things are merely what you do, and they will always be. They are
not who you are,” she said.
“As you all are thinking about your careers, I want you to think about
what's important to you. How does your job fit into a full life – a
complete life? How are you going to give back?”
The second question Obama asked herself and posed to the graduates was,
"What's going on in the world around me?"
She pointed out to the graduates that while the country has come a long
way from segregation and Jim Crow, there is still work to be done.
“Take a look around, and I guarantee you that you will see that there is
plenty of work left to be done,” she said.
“Everywhere we look, there are wrongs just waiting to be made right. But
again, I warn you – those wrongs won't go away. And they will entrench
themselves deeper and deeper unless we act.”
The final question Obama said she asked herself is “What can I do to
“The fact is we simply cannot move forward unless all of us are engaged.
And being engaged means not simply recognizing what's wrong, not simply
complaining about and talking about our problems, but acting,” Obama
“It means waking up and changing the situation.”
This academic year, students at N.C. A&T have volunteered nearly 35,000
hours of community service through mentorship, cleaning up in the
community, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, etc.
“With that kind of action and that kind of commitment, all of you have
begun to carry on that proud legacy of the Greensboro Four,” she told
generation looks at the world around them and decides that it's time to
wake up and change the situation. And we've always looked to our young
people to lead the way.”
Obama told graduates it’s time for them to take the baton and move the
banner forward to wake society up and do more.
“That's what Aggies like you have always done. And that is your history,
and that is your legacy. That is who you are – never forget that,” she
It’s tapping into the legacy of the A&T Four and the work in the
community that has Obama, her husband and people across the country
proud and excited about the nation’s future, she said.
“I cannot wait to see all you will achieve and all that you will
contribute in the years ahead. You have everything before you. God bless
you all, and good luck,” she said.