Sunday, May 12, 2013

Michelle Obama speaks at EKU's graduation

My question for you is, 'Who are you gonna be?' And if you’ll notice, 
I’m not asking what are you going to do. 
I’m asking you about how you plan to live your life every day.

'How are you going to respond when you don’t get that job you had your heart set on?' 
For all of you who are going to be teachers, 'What are you gonna do if the students 
in your class next year just don’t respond to your lessons?'

…These are the moments that define us….Not the day you win Teacher of the Year, 
but the times that force you to claw, and scratch and fight, just to get through the day - 
the moments when you get knocked down and you wonder whether its’ even worth it 
to get back up - Those are the times when you’ve got to ask yourself, 
'Who am I gonna be?'

And I want to be clear, this is not just some vague platitude about building character. 
In recent years, we’ve actually been seeing a growing body of research 
that shows that skills like resilience, and conscientiousness can be just as important 
to your success as your test scores, or even your IQ….If you are willing to dig deep; 
if you are willing to pick yourself up when you fall; if you’re willing to work and work 
until your weaknesses become your strengths; then you’ll develop 
a set of skills that you can mold and apply to any situation you encounter; 
any job you might have; any crisis you might confront,
But you gotta make that choice. 
'Who are you gonna be?'

---Michelle Obama

This from the Courier-Journal

First lady Michelle Obama invoked the spirit of student veterans Saturday as she challenged graduates at Eastern Kentucky University’s spring commencement to seek out diverse experiences and find ways to serve the community.

“When you’ve worked hard and done well, as I’ve said, the least you can do is reach back and give a hand to somebody else who can use that help,” Obama told a cheering crowd of 6,200 who filled EKU’s Alumni Coliseum in the last of three commencement ceremonies.

In a 20-minute speech that touched on struggles with affordable education and post-college employment, she asked graduating seniors to contemplate the resilience of student veterans who are one day wearing a rucksack and carrying a firearm and the next day wearing a backpack and carrying a textbook.

“If you are willing to dig deep, if you are willing to pick yourself up when you fall, if you are willing to work and work until your weaknesses become your strengths, then you will develop the type of skills that you can mold and apply to any situation you might encounter,” she said.

The first lady, in one of only a few appearances in Kentucky in recent years, addressed the university as part of her Joining Forces initiative to support military families.

EKU is nationally recognized for programs to help veterans succeed academically and transition from “combat to college.” Nearly 1,300 veterans were enrolled there this semester, including 93 who earned a degree this year.

Obama heaped praise on the university, faculty and students for reaching out to those returning from war and seeking an education. But she also warned graduates that “you can’t stop serving once you leave here. Whether you have worn our country’s uniform or not, we are all called to serve and give back to those around us.”

She also counseled graduates to open their minds to other viewpoints. “If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican,” Obama said. “And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t.”

Obama pointed them to religious congregations different from their own, saying they might hear something in a sermon “that stays with you.” And she predicted they would learn something if they reached out “with an open mind and an open heart.”

“And goodness knows, we need more of that,” she said. “Because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do. We just get stuck in our ways.”

Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched the Joining Forces initiative in 2011 to highlight issues facing military families and encourage support from government, community groups and businesses. The program emphasizes the importance of employment, education and overall well-being.

Allen Back, director EKU’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs, said those goals parallel outreach activities on campus, adding that “we have the same desire … to get these folks back to work and build our country back up.”

As soldiers began returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, leaders at EKU ramped up efforts to support student veterans and “it just caught fire,” Back said, adding that service-oriented degree programs such as criminal justice, fire science and emergency medical science appeal to veterans who look for studies that mesh with their military experiences.

Today, the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs administers Operation Veterans Success, a group of about 10 initiatives to help veterans afford school, navigate academic life and make the most of military benefits. Among other things, that includes waiving admission fees, granting priority registration and charging in-state tuition rates for all veterans nationwide.

“We’re more than military-friendly, we are military-helpful,” he said. “What is most inspiring is to see those students obtain their degrees despite the difficulties.”

As a result, Military Times magazine ranked EKU No. 1 in 2010 and 2012 among best colleges for veterans. And Obama said Saturday that the high ranking is no surprise, considering EKU has a history of service.

Despite President Barack Obama’s lackluster approval ratings in Kentucky, Saturday’s crowd for the first lady was all cheers, offering standing ovations.

The EKU chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty passed out pamphlets before the speech criticizing the Obama administration for high national debt and poor job prospects for college students.

But chapter President Darryl Hearn, a corporate communications and technology major at EKU, said the group did not attend the event to protest, and “our entire meaning for being is here just to hand out some things and let students actually know what is going on in America."
This from the Herald-Leader:
"You have given back to our country by opening your arms and welcoming our nation's veterans into your community, and everyone — everyone — has been a part of that," she said. "Graduates, you can't stop serving once you leave here. Whether you've worn our country's uniform or not, we're all called to serve on behalf of those around us."

First Lady Michelle Obama at Eastern Kentucky University
EKU graduated almost 2,500 students on Saturday in a series of three ceremonies. Obama appeared in the evening, at the last ceremony with retiring President Doug Whitlock presiding. He introduced Obama with a catch in his voice. The 6,200-seat Alumni Coliseum was full, and Obama received several standing ovations before she began speaking.

Obama recognized the many students at EKU who are the first in their family to go to college, a group to which she belongs.

"I know you faced all kinds of doubts and uncertainties when you showed up on campus, and I know a lot about it from my own experiences," said Obama, who with her brother was the first in her family to attend Princeton. "I didn't know how to pick out the right classes, how to find the right buildings. I began to think all those doubters might be right.

But she said, she learned from her parents' values how to persevere.

"Once I got to college, when I applied those values I was able to develop a whole new set of skills I would use for the rest of my life," she said. "I learned to turn stumbles and missteps into sources of inspiration."
Obama made only one reference to politics, when she told graduates to talk to people with different ideas, urging Democrats to talk to Republicans and vice versa.

"We know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do — we get stuck in our ways," she said.

Obama asked the graduates three simple question:

"Who do you want to be? How will you serve others, and who will you include in your lives?"
Obama ended her speech with a story about the hundreds of young people she's worked with and hired throughout her adult life. She returned to the three questions.

"The answers to those questions are far more important than you can imagine," she said. "I never once asked someone I was interviewing to explain a test score or a grade in class. Never. I never once made a hire just because someone went to an Ivy League school instead of a state school, never.

"What I have looked for is what kind of person you are. Are you a hard worker? Are you reliable?

Are you open to other viewpoints? Have you stepped outside of your own self-interest to help others?
Have you found a way to serve our country whether in uniform or in your community? ... Those are the qualities I want on my team because those are the qualities that move our businesses and schools and our entire country forward. And just understand this: Those are the qualities that you all already embody."

The roughly 600 graduates and their families at the evening ceremony had a long wait to get through security protocols.

Brenda Revere came to honor two members of the EKU football team coached by her husband, John Revere. "Given her platform, this was one of the best places she could come," she said of Obama.

But the campus was glad to host her for any reason, Revere said: "As our first African American first lady, this was the hottest ticket in Richmond, Kentucky!"

Robert Bundy, a member of the Kentucky National Guard, came to the ceremony in uniform to watch his wife, Melissa, receive her master's degree in teaching. He was leaving immediately afterward to go to a two-week stint on duty in Clay City.

"It's not every day you get to see the first lady," he said. "For her to honor us, it makes us look good."
Ken and Deborah Slone met at EKU and returned to see their daughter Beth Ann graduate.

"She's here for a very worthwhile purpose," Ken Slone said. "The military has always been a big part of EKU."

Not everyone praised Obama. A student group called Young Americans for Liberty, handed out pamphlets that criticized several of Barack Obama's policies on debt and taxation and accused the first lady of hypocrisy for having Beyoncè play at her birthday.

"We're trying to raise student awareness of what's really going on in our government," explained Darryl Hearn, president of the EKU chapter of YAL. "Students don't understand what is waiting for them after college."

But graduate Annie Flaherty was thrilled to have Obama speak at her graduation.
"I loved it," she said of the speech. "It was very down to earth, and it appealed to all different kinds of people and their respective beliefs."


Anonymous said...


I'll take Barack anyday, but his wife has attempted too often to claim the spotlight. With her attempts to change the American diet, her folksy rhetoric, and her (questionable) fashion sense and bare arms, Michelle Obama has become more self-important than Oprah. Her style simply does not resonate with this undergraduate.

But you gotta ask yourself? Who you gonna be? Not Michelle Obama, that's for sure.

Richard Day said...

Mee yow.

Anonymous said...

Good PR for EKU but sad that some families had to buy scalped tickets just to see their own kid graduate regardless of who was speaking. Graduations are suppose to be about the graduates, not the speaker who I thought were there for the students.

Anonymous said...

Students received 6 tickets each. Good grief, is it necessary to bring every living relative?

Anonymous said...

Good Grief, maybe some folks are proud of their family member's degree and shouldn't be excluded in order to "raffle off" tickets to a speaker. Guess students should be glad that under current "reallocation" mindset that they didn't have to pay for their seat, parking and their own diploma.