Michelle Obama Reminds Graduates That White House Was Built By Slaves

| by Kathryn Schroeder
First Lady Michelle ObamaFirst Lady Michelle Obama

In her final commencement speech as first lady, Michelle Obama reminded students that she wakes up every day in a house built by slaves.

On June 3 at City College in New York, Obama said:

…Graduates, it’s the story that I witness every single day when I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful black young women head off to school waving goodbye to their father, the president of the United States, the son of a man from Kenya who came here to America for the same reasons as many of you: to get an education and improve his prospects in life.

While the founders’ of the U.S. may never have imagined a day when a black man could be president, “all of you are very much the fruits of their vision,” she continued.

Obama’s speech focused on celebrating the diversity of the U.S., and issued a warning to graduates to avoid those who would want to build walls to keep others out; an obvious, yet veiled, critique of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

"They seem to view our diversity as a threat to be contained rather than as a resource to be tapped," Obama said. "They tell us to be afraid of those who are different, to be suspicious of those with whom we disagree. They act as if name-calling is an acceptable substitute for thoughtful debate. As if anger and intolerance should be our default state rather than optimism and openness that have always been the engine of our progress."

Recalling her travels as first lady, Obama commented on how such individuals and governments fail their people, POLITICO reports:

…I have seen what happens when ideas like these take hold. I have seen how leaders rule by intimidation, leaders who demonize and dehumanize entire groups of people often do so because they have nothing else to offer. And I have seen how places that stifle the voices and dismiss the potential of their citizens are diminished, how they are less vital, less hopeful, less free.

"Graduates, that is not who we are. That is not what this country stands for," Obama continued:

No, no, here in America, we don’t let our differences tear us apart. Not here. Because we know that our greatness comes from when we appreciate each other’s strengths, when we learn from each other, when we lean on each other, because in this country, it’s never been each person for themselves, no we’re all in this together. We always have been.

Furthering her attack on Trump and his proposals to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, Obama said, "here in America, we don’t give in to our fears, we don’t build up walls to keep people out, because we know that our greatness has always depending on contributions from people who were born elsewhere but sought out this country and made it their home.”

To prove her point, the first lady went through a list of contributions made by American immigrants, including the companies Google and eBay, the invention of the artificial heart, the telephone, Russian-born Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” the Brooklyn Bridge, blue jeans and the White House.

“Their legacy is very much your legacy," she said, according to The Huffington Post. "And your inheritance. And don’t let anybody tell you differently. You are the living, breathing proof that the American dream endures in our time. It’s you.”

Sources: Politico, Huffington Post / Photo credit: Simon Davis/DFID via Flickr

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