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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 alumni.

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 service.

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 Proctor Hall.

“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 help?”

“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 said.

“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 graduates.

“Each 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 said.

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.

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