Both President Barack Obama (POTUS) and First Lady Michelle Obama (FLOTUS) spent their weekend on college campuses, inspiring college graduates. FLOTUS had some advice for some Tennessee high school graduates, at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School–strike your own path in college and life and work to overcome inevitable failures with determination and grit. Giving the commencement address, she told the 170 graduates:
My message to all of you today is this: Do not waste a minute living someone else’s dream. It takes a lot of real work to discover what brings you joy … and you won’t find what you love simply by checking boxes or padding your GPA. My No. 1 goal was to go to a high school that would push me and challenge me. I wanted to go somewhere that would celebrate achievement. A place where academic success wouldn’t make me a target of teasing or bullying, but instead would be a badge of honor.
Unfortunately, schools like this don’t exist for every kid. You are blessed. Oprah was demoted from her first job as a news anchor, and now she doesn’t even need a last name. And then there’s this guy Barack Obama … he lost his first race for Congress, and now he gets to call himself my husband.
Meanwhile, POTUS gave the commencement address to graduates of historically black Morehouse College.
The president told graduates that his success was due to
the special obligation I felt, as a black man like you, to help those who need it most, people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had — because there but for the grace of God, go I. I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family. And that motivates me.
So yes, go get that law degree. But if you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and powerful, or if you can also find time to defend the powerless. Sure, go get your MBA, or start that business, we need black businesses out there. But ask yourself what broader purpose your business might serve, in putting people to work, or transforming a neighborhood. The most successful CEOs I know didn’t start out intent on making money. Rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed.
He also used the speech to share his personal story of growing up without a father, confessing that along the way he made unspecified bad personal choices.
Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is, there’s no longer any room for excuses.
Sweet! Congrats to all of the high school and college graduates! [Associated Press]