Excellence, dignity and integrity, those are qualities First Lady Michelle Obama told graduates at Jackson State University they should live by. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.
"Hey Ya'll," said Mrs. Obama.
With a friendly down-home greeting, Mrs. Obama electrified the audience as she stepped to the podium Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Thousands of guests and some 800 graduates cheered as university president Dr. Carolyn Meyers presented the First Lady with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
"She believes in education. She believes in you. Thank you First Lady and welcome to Jackson State University," said Meyers.
"Hey, I'm a Tiger now!" said Mrs. Obama.
Mrs. Obama began her address by applauding the family and friends who supported the graduates as they pursued their degrees. She then segued into civil rights history. She talked about those who gave their lives for the right to vote like Medgar Evers. Mrs. Obama explained too many young African American aren't voting. She said in 2014 fewer than 1 in 5 went to the polls. Mrs. Obama said that some of the gains made during the civil rights movement are under threat, using Mississippi's Religious Freedom Law as an example.
"If we fail to exercise our fundamental right to vote, then I guarantee that so much of the progress we fought for will be under threat. Congress will still be gridlocked. State houses will continue to rollback voting rights and write discrimination into the law. We see it right here in Mississippi. Just two weeks ago how swiftly progress can hurdle backward. How easy it is to single out a small group and marginalize them because of who they are or who they love," said Mrs. Obama.
The First Lady weaved the theme of rising above the fray throughout her speech. She referred to Dr. Martin Luther King who said where there is light, darkness can't exist. Mrs. Obama explained that there are so many angry voices in politics and in the media, it's easy to become frustrated. She said controversies and conflicts are going to come, the question is how will they respond.
"Are you going to throw up your hands and say that progress will never come? Are you going to get angry and lash out? Are you going to turn inward and just give in to despair and frustration or are you going to take a deep breath, straighten your shoulders, lift hold up your head and do what Barack Obama has alway done. He says when they go low I go high. That's the choice Barack and I have made," said Mrs. Obama.
Mrs. Obama discussed some of the president's successes, working to expand healthcare, lowering the unemployment rate and same-sex marriage. She talked about their faith in God and stressed that graduates exemplify dignity, integrity and excellence in everything they do.
"And as you say here in Jackson State. The world better get ready because here ya'll come. I love you all so much," said Mrs. Obama.
Kurtina Maholmes received a degree in music vocal performance. She took the First Lady's comments to heart.
"The thing that touched me the most about the First Lady's speech is how she's saying to embrace love and having faith," said Maholmes.
Computer Engineering graduate Kimberly Wells says she so grateful that Mrs. Obama served as their guest speaker.
"Just a great opportunity to see the First Lady first hand. Being close as ever to her. The words that she said, the encouragement that she gave us was wonderful," said Wells.
Joshua Barber studied communicative disorders. Some may not remember who spoke at their graduation but he says he'll hold onto the memory of this day.
"It was very remarkable. It's something I will remember for a lifetime and I will never forget," said Barber.
This is the first time a sitting First Lady had given the commencement address at Jackson State University.