Michelle Obama's Emotional Farewell: 'The Power Of Hope' Has 'Allowed Us To Rise' | KUOW News and Information

Michelle Obama's Emotional Farewell: 'The Power Of Hope' Has 'Allowed Us To Rise'

Jan 6, 2017
Originally published on January 6, 2017 10:10 pm

Michelle Obama used her last official White House speech to deliver a passionate pep talk to the nation's young people, especially immigrants, Muslims and others who might feel slighted by the incoming Trump administration.

"Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don't matter," the first lady said, "or like you don't have a place in our American story, because you do."

Obama spoke at a celebration of school counselors from around the country. The annual event is one of a number of steps along with "college signing day" that Obama and her husband have taken to encourage students to pursue higher education.

"Because let's be honest," the first lady said. "If we're always shining the spotlight on professional athletes or recording artists or Hollywood celebrities, if those are the only achievements we celebrate, then why would we ever think kids would see college as a priority?"

A graduate of Harvard Law School like her husband, Michelle Obama stressed that to preserve and protect their freedoms, young people should get a good education, so they can be active and productive citizens. She added young people should not lose hope, even when they encounter the inevitable obstacles.

"It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and the life of this country," Obama said. "Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us."

At times, others have tried to place limits on Michelle Obama herself. In a TV interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, Obama described her surprise at being tagged during her husband's first White House campaign as an "angry black woman."

"Wow, where did that come from?" Obama told Winfrey. "I thought, 'Let me live my life out loud so that people can then see and then judge for themselves.' "

After eight years in the White House, the first lady has won a favorable judgment from most Americans. She enjoys higher favorability ratings than her husband does.

On Friday, she encouraged young people to be focused and determined, not afraid.

"When people see us for who we truly are, maybe, just maybe they, too, will be inspired to rise to their best possible selves," Obama said.

With her voice breaking, Obama recalled how her own father worked hard at a city water plant, hoping that one day his children would go to college and have opportunities he never dreamed of.

"That's the kind of hope that every single one of us — politicians, parents, preachers, all of us — need to be providing for our young people," Obama said. "Because that is what moves this country forward every single day. Our hope for the future and the hard work that hope inspires."

"That's my final message to young people as first lady," she said as the audience in the White House East Room stood and applauded. "Lead by example with hope, never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life."

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Michelle Obama offered a farewell message as she addressed the nation's young people today. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Michelle Obama spoke during a White House celebration of some of the nation's best school counselors. And in an emotional final speech as first lady, Mrs. Obama offered some counseling of her own.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHELLE OBAMA: For all the young people in this room and those who are watching, know that this country belongs to you, to all of you.

HORSLEY: The first lady spoke specifically to immigrants, Muslims and the poor, people who might feel slighted by the incoming Trump administration. Our glorious diversity, she said, is not a threat to America. It makes us who we are.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don't matter or like you don't have a place in our American story because you do.

HORSLEY: The first lady herself has felt the sting of others' low expectations. When her husband first ran for the White House eight years ago, some dismissed Michelle Obama as an angry black woman. But the first lady says with hard work and a good education, anything is possible. And she urged young people facing the inevitable obstacles not to be afraid but rather focused, determined and hopeful.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country.

HORSLEY: The Harvard-trained lawyer's voice broke when she recalled how her own blue-collar father went to work every day, dreaming that his children would have opportunities that he never did.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: Being your first lady has been the greatest honor of my life, and I hope I've made you proud.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you, you guys.

HORSLEY: As her audience in the east room stood and cheered, Obama promised she'll be working to support young people long after she and her husband leave the White House. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.