On Saturday, May 10, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to graduates at Dillard University in New Orleans, a historically black college with a 2014 class of 226 students. Her advice: “stay hungry,” as the Huffington Post reports. Obama wasn’t talking about climbing the corporate ladder en route to big salaries and corner offices. Instead, she urged grads to be altruistic and inspire the “next generation of geniuses.”
Outlining a blueprint for success — measured, of course, in more than just money and job title — Obama suggested students start small and strive to make their communities better places. That might entail working as a mentor or tutor — both of which are springboards for bigger things.
Why the focus on community service and not, say, career success, as commencement speakers often dwell on? As the First Lady explained, American society has come a long way, but there are still many challenges facing African Americans. In 2013, she said, blacks were twice as likely as whites to be unemployed and three times as likely to live in poverty. There’s a strong need for leadership — one generation helping the next.
“Now, perhaps when you hear these statistics, you might think to yourself, well, those numbers are terrible, but I’m not part of the problem,” she said. “And you might be thinking that since you’re not one of those statistics, and you’re sitting here wearing that nice black robe today, you can go on your way and never look back.”
But looking back is essential, Obama said, and toward the end of her speech, she reiterated the idea of reaching high as individuals but never losing sight of youngsters in need of guidance.
“This is your obligation,” Obama said. “I want you to keep reaching higher. I want you all to keep raising your bars. Let the next generation know that there is no greater investment than a good education. And if you do all of this, then I am confident that you will uphold that duty and write your own chapter into the legacy of this great university. And let me tell you something, I cannot wait to see the world that your children will be born into.”