Michelle Obama has a message for 2020 graduates — and for everyone, especially black Americans: “For those of you who feel invisible, please know that your story matters.”
The former first lady continued, “Your ideas matter. Your experiences matter. Your vision for what our world can and should be matters. So don’t ever, ever let anyone tell you that you’re too angry, or that you ‘should keep your mouth shut.’”
Those words came as part of a virtual commencement address that was recently shared online. Obama’s message acknowledged both the ongoing global pandemic — there are, as of publication, more than 6.8 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide — and the social unrest as people continue to protest police brutality and systemic racism.
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It’s the latter moment that seemed to be at the forefront of Obama’s mind, especially as a high-profile black woman. “In light of the current state of our country, I struggled to find the right words of wisdom for you today,” she said.
Indeed, Obama noted, “over these past couple of months our foundation has been shaken — not just by a pandemic that stole too many of our loved ones … but also by the rumbling of the age-old fault lines that our country was built on: the lines of race and power that are now, once again, so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with.”
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That’s why she’s urging everyone — especially those who are now entering the next phases of their lives amid the chaos — to ground themselves in “time-tested values like honesty and integrity, empathy and compassion.”
She also encouraged everyone to stay engaged, conceding that “our democracy isn’t perfect,” but that taking part in it is still an effective way to create change. “But,” Obama continued, “it doesn’t work if you silence yourselves.”
[Related: Michelle Obama’s Memoir Celebrates a Resource for Ambitious Women]