COLLEGE PARK, Md. — First lady Michelle Obama spoke passionately about the importance of education to the African-American community in a commencement address Friday, urging more than 600 graduates of Bowie State University to honor the school’s history and to pass their commitment to education on to future generations.
In her 15-minute address, the first lady touched on the university’s founding in 1865 to train black teachers; the difficulties confronted by black students after emancipation from slavery and during the civil rights movement; and the sacrifices made by her own parents, who were not college graduates.
“I am thinking about all the mothers and the fathers just like my parents, who dug into pockets for their last dime,” Mrs. Obama said. “Their sacrifice is your legacy.”
Located in suburban Washington, Bowie State has about 5,400 undergraduate and graduate students. The university invited the first lady to speak and moved its commencement to the University of Maryland’s College Park campus to accommodate a crowd of thousands, which greeted the first lady with a standing ovation.
Mrs. Obama typically gives a few commencement addresses each year and has spoken at several other historically black colleges and universities since President Barack Obama became the nation’s first black chief executive. She received an honorary doctorate from Bowie State on Friday.
The first lady said education was a lifeline to the first students at the nearly 150-year-old school. Its founding “was in many ways an act of defiance, an elegant rebuttal to the idea that black people couldn’t or shouldn’t be educated,” she said. “Back then, people were hungry to learn.”
But Obama said too much of the black community has lost that desire. One in 3 African-Americans are dropping out of high school, she said, and only 1 in 5 between the ages of 25 and 29 has a bachelor’s degree. She also cited statistics that show college graduates make more money and live longer than high school dropouts.
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