Michelle Obama has often served as an inspiration during her time as the FLOTUS, and her recent delivery of a high school commencement speech was no different.
Obama spoke to the students at Martin Luther King Jr. Preparatory High School’s graduation ceremony in Chicago on Tuesday. The First Lady, who grew up not far from the Chicago school, referenced her own story growing up and the hurdles she had to overcome during her high school days in hopes of inspiring the students to choose a path to success despite their own hardships.
The words were especially poignant for this particular class of 2015 considering the loss of their classmate, Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed just days after she performed with the school’s band at President Obama’s inauguration in 2013, according to E! News.
Though many of us cannot imagine the heartache and tribulations that these young students have gone through, we’ve all dealt with our own personal struggles in one form or another. Obama’s words undoubtedly struck a chord with the students of Martin Luther King Jr. Prep, but these quotes can serve as motivation for us all to persevere through any trying times in life.
1. “Instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage or exhaust you, let them inspire you. Let them make you even hungrier to succeed.”
Mrs. Obama reminds us that the sweet isn’t as sweet without the sour. Through perseverance comes true reward.
2. “I want you to understand that every scar that you have is a reminder not just that you got hurt, but that you survived.”
“I know that many of you have already dealt with some serious losses in your lives,” Obama said before noting the importance of battle wounds. “Maybe someone in your family lost a job or struggled with drugs or alcohol or an illness. Maybe you’ve lost someone you love, someone you desperately wish could be here with you tonight. And I know that many of you are thinking about Hadiya right now and feeling the hole that she’s left in your hearts,” she continued. Sometimes, looking back on our lives and how far we’ve come and everything we’ve gone through is what we need to keep pushing forward.
3. “There will be all kinds of folks who are eager to help you, but they are not going to come knocking on your door to find you.”
Obama reinforced the importance of being proactive in your own life, and that help doesn’t come to those who don’t take responsibility and find it. “If you are struggling with an assignment, go to a tutoring session,” she said. “If you having trouble with a paper, get yourself to the writing center. And if someone isn’t helpful, if they are impatient or unfriendly, then just find somebody else. You may have to go to a second, or third or a fourth person, but… you keep asking.”
4. “Understand that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.”
The FLOTUS didn’t deny the fact that it’s easy to believe that seeking assistance is weak, but she insisted it was only when she asked for help during her freshman year at Princeton that she discovered she was where she truly belonged. “I guarantee that you will get what you need to succeed,” she said.
5. “You need to stay hungry for them.”
Obama motivated the students by reminding them of how lucky they are to be surrounded by the love and hope of their families, noting that they need to work hard for the people who have sacrificed for them.
6. “With every word you speak, with every choice you make, with the way you carry yourself each day, you are rewriting the story of our communities.”
With this quote, Obama empowered the students to rewrite the history of how their community is perceived, a narrative she said she and the president struggle with every day in the White House. “You all encounter people who doubt your very existence — folks who believe that hardworking families with strong values don’t exist on the South Side of Chicago, or in Detroit, or El Paso or in Indian Country, or in Appalachia,” she warned before challenging the class to fight the myths through their own hard work.
7. “As painful as they are, those holes we all have in our hearts are what truly connect us to each other.”
“They are the spaces we can make for other people’s sorrow and pain, as well as their joy and their love so that eventually, instead of feeling empty, our hearts feel even bigger and fuller,” Obama said. This is an eloquent reminder that through our pain, we can more fully connect with ourselves and the rest of humanity.
8. “Let them serve as fuel for your journey.”
“It’s OK to feel the sadness and the grief that comes with those losses,” said Obama. “But instead of letting those feelings defeat you, let them motivate you.”
Watch highlights of her speech below.