First Lady Obama's address to grads at Merced

By Michelle Obama, New York Times - May 21, 2009

Thank you. Thank you so much, Class of 2009. All I can say is wow, and good afternoon, everyone.I am so proud of these graduates. We have to just give them one big round of applause before I start.



This is just an amazing day.

I want to thank Dick for that lovely introduction. He makes for a good companion when you have to go to an inauguration. (Laughter.) So I'm glad he could be here with me today. I appreciate all that he has done to make this day so very special.

I want to acknowledge a few other people before I begin: Congressman Jerry McNerney, Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, Attorney General Jerry Brown, and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. I want to thank you all for your leadership and for being an example of what a life in public service can mean to us all.

And of course I have to thank Chancellor Kang for this incredible welcome, and as well as President Yudof and Provost Keith Alley for all that they've done to help make this event just such a wonderful day for us all.

And to the graduates and their families and the entire community of Merced, I am so pleased, so thrilled, so honored to be here with all of you today. (Applause.)

Now, I know we've got a lot of national press out there, and a few people may be wondering why did I choose the University of California-Merced to deliver my first commencement speech as First Lady. (Applause.) Well, let me tell you something, the answer is simple: You inspired me, you touched me. (Applause.) You know, there are few things that are more rewarding than to watch young people recognize that they have the power to make their dreams come true. And you did just that. Your perseverance and creativity were on full display in your efforts to bring me here to Merced for this wonderful occasion. (Applause.)

So let me tell you what you did. If you don't know, parents, because some of you were involved, my office received thousands of letters and, of course, Valentines cards from students; each and every one of them so filled with hope and enthusiasm. It moved not just me but my entire staff. They came up to me and said, "Michelle, you have to do this." (Laughter.) "You have to go here!" (Applause.)

They were all terrific. Like the one from Christopher Casuga that read, "Dear Mrs. Obama -- Please come to UC Merced's Commencement. We could really use the publicity." (Laughter.) That really touched me.

Or then there was one from Jim Greenwood who wrote not on his behalf but on behalf of his wife and the mother of his two children, who is graduating with us today. (Applause.)

And then there was the one from Andrea Mercado. I think this was one of my favorites. Andrea said that the role of First Lady is -- and I quote -- "the balance between politics and sanity." (Laughter.) Thank you, Andrea, for that vote of confidence. (Laughter.)

I received letters from everyone connected to this university -- not just students, but they came from parents, and grandparents, and cousins, and aunts, and uncles, and neighbors, and friends, all of them telling me about how hard you all have worked and how important this day is for you and for the entire Merced community.

And then there's that beautiful video, the "We Believe" video. Well, let me tell you, it worked, because I'm here! (Applause.)

And I want to thank in particular Sam Fong and Yaasha Sabba and all of the students who launched the "Dear Michelle" campaign. (Applause.) I am honored by your efforts and happy to be with you to celebrate this important milestone.

But I understand that this type of community-based letter writing campaign isn't unique to me. This community, this Merced community, employed the same strategy to help get the University of California to build the new campus here in Merced. (Applause.) Every school kid in the entire county, I understand, sent a postcard to the UC Board of Regents in order to convince them to select Merced, and I just love the fact that some of the graduates sitting this audience today participating were involved in that campaign, as well, and then they used the same strategy to get me here. That is amazing. And what it demonstrates is the power of many voices coming together to make something wonderful happen. And I'm telling you, next year's graduation speaker better watch out, because Merced students know how to get what they want. (Laughter and applause.)

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