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Photo courtesy of Bowie State University. First lady Michelle Obama serves as the commencement speaker at Bowie State University’s graduation ceremony Friday at Comcast Center in College Park.
Published on: Wednesday, May 22, 2013
By Sarah Hainesworth
Bowie State University’s Spring 2013 graduates received more than just their college diplomas on Friday — they also received words of encouragement from first lady Michelle Obama.
More than 600 graduates and their loved ones filled Comcast Center in College Park for the graduation ceremony. Previously, Bowie State University has held its commencement on its own campus, but this year the location was changed to accommodate the large audience.
Although the Bulldogs graduated on the Terps’ territory, there was an overwhelming sense of unity as the students and their guests cheered for one another and the highly anticipated commencement speaker.
“It is beyond a pleasure and an honor to be here with you all today,” Obama said.
Photo courtesy of Bowie State University. Bowie State graduate Devon Tikili smiles at commencement Friday at Comcast Center in College Park.
The first lady’s speech focused on those that made it possible for blacks to receive an education and the importance of education. She spoke on the history of Bowie State University, from 1865 to now.
“Today more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and more than 50 years after the end of separate but equal, when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they are sitting on couches for hours, playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or lawyer or business leader, they are fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper,” Obama said.
“Right now,” she continued, “one in three African-American students are dropping out of high school. Only one in five African-Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 has gotten a college degree. Let’s be very clear, today, getting an education is as important, if not more important than it was back when this university was founded.”
The first lady called upon the graduates to continue to educate themselves.
“We need to once again fight to educate ourselves and our children like our lives depend on it because they do,” she said.
“As my husband has said often: please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white,” the first lady added.
Although Obama has spoken at other commencement ceremonies this spring, her speech was personalized for Bowie State University. She told the story of Summa Cum Laude Audrey Lugmayer, a student who worked a full time job during her matriculation due to her father’s illness but was still able to maintain a 4.0 GPA. Obama also highlighted Ariel Williams-Edwards, a graduating social work major who decided to help others because of her mother’s struggle with substance abuse.
At the end of the first lady’s speech, the audience roared with applause.
“I think it was beautiful. I was glad to see so many people here. Obama’s speech was very much to the point. It was excellent,” Bowie State alumna Joyce Conway said.
Kwaniece Ricks, who graduated with Cum Laude honors, agreed.
“Her speech was amazing. It made me cry because I understand what it’s like to be the first in the family to get a degree while struggling,” Ricks said. “Her speech really motivated people to get their degrees no matter what age and stage they are in life.”