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First Lady urges Dillard graduates to ‘think big’

By Kathy L. Gilbert
May 12, 2014 NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

First Lady Michelle Obama congratulated the 226 “beautiful and handsome men and women of the Dillard University Class of 2014” during a commencement address at one of The United Methodist Church’s 13 historically black universities May 10.

“You all have seen so much. You've witnessed this school's rebirth after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina -- the new buildings that replaced the ones you lost, the classrooms that started filling back up again, the service projects that you all have done to help this community bounce back. And I know along the way that each of you has written your own story of resilience and determination to make it here to this day,” she said.

Obama told the graduates to never lose their hunger for education as she recounted  the history of the university which dates back to 1826. She noted  a freed slave was one of the signers of a charter for then New Orleans University.

“Through segregation and depression, through threats of violence and the floodwaters of a devastating storm, students like you have come here to study and to learn, and to carry forward those hopes and dreams. And today, I stand before a sea of young geniuses,” she said.

Obama urged the graduates to contribute in small ways such as volunteering for after-school programs or helping high school kids fill out their college applications. She also told them to think bigger and get their congregations or communities to start a mentoring program or convince their employers to sponsor scholarships for underprivileged kids.

“Or maybe you could think a little higher—maybe you could run for school board or Congress, or, yes, even President of the United States.”

Obama received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the university.

The top four Dillard graduates all come from Nigeria. The 20-year-old valedictorian, Merrilyn Akpapuna, who comes from the southeastern corner of Nigeria, plans postgraduate study at Western Michigan University in the fall.