First Lady Michelle Obama. (Screengrab/Official White House video)
Michelle Obama will address graduating seniors at ceremonies in April, May and June in what will be her final commencement remarks as first lady.
Obama chose to make her final addresses at schools which both serve diverse populations and highlight her Reach Higher initiative. Launched in May 2014, Reach Higher seeks to inspire young Americans to pursue their education past high school and provides tools and resources to support those efforts.
“To compete you have got to reach higher. The fact is a generation ago our county had the highest percentage of college graduates in the world. But today we have dropped all the way to twelfth and that’s unacceptable, right?” Obama said at the program’s launch. “That’s not who we are and all of you have a role to play to help get us back on top.”
On April 23, Obama will address approximately 1,000 graduates of Jackson State University, an HBCU located in Jackson, Miss. The White House highlighted Jackson State’s collaboration with the Jackson Public School District to create the first laboratory school in the Jackson area.
The following month, Obama will travel to Santa Fe, N.M., to address high school seniors at Santa Fe Indian School on May 26. The White House credited the school with being a leader in Native American education, which for the past five years has seen an average graduation rate of 98 percent.
Finally, the first lady will offer her last commencement address at the 170th graduation ceremony of The City College of New York on its campus in historic Harlem on June 3. The first public higher education institution in the Big Apple, CCNY has a very diverse school population, half of which hails from lower-income homes and about 40 percent of which are non-native English speakers.
The Reach Higher initiative reflects an issue that has been a hallmark of Obama’s time in the White House.
“I believe that education is the single-most important civil rights issue that we face today,” Obama said in remarks on Feb. 20, 2015. “Because in the end, if we really want to solve issues like mass incarceration, poverty, racial profiling, voting rights, and the kinds of challenges that shocked so many of us over the past year, then we simply cannot afford to lose out on the potential of even one young person. We cannot allow even one more young person to fall through the cracks.”