COLLEGE PARK, Md. – First Lady Michelle Obama used her recent commencement address at Bowie State University to urge graduates to get involved in the effort to improve and reform the nation’s public schools.
“If the school in your neighborhood isn’t any good, don’t just accept it. Get in there, fix it,” Obama told graduates of the historically black university. “Talk to the parents, talk to the teachers. Get business and community leaders involved, as well. Because we all have a stake in building schools worthy of our children’s promise.”
But Obama dedicated the lion’s share of her 20-minute address to the important role education has played in bettering the lives of African Americans throughout history. She contrasted that with the casual attitude too many African Americans have toward education today.
When Bowie State University was founded in 1865, “education meant nothing less than freedom,” Obama said. “It meant economic independence … a chance to provide for your families. It meant political empowerment, the chance to read the newspaper and articulate an informed opinion, and take their rightful place as full citizens of this nation.
“So back then, people were hungry to learn. Do you hear me?” Obama continued. “Hungry to get what they needed to succeed in this country. And that hunger did not fade over time. If anything, it only grew stronger.”
That sense of urgency has been replaced with a sense of complacency, according to the First Lady.
“But today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 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,” Obama said.
“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 a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.
“Right now, 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 — one in five.
“But 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.”
Obama explained that compared to those who only make it through high school, college graduates have higher lifetime earnings, lower rates of unemployment and longer lifespans.
“So I think that we can agree that we need to start feeling that hunger again, you know what I mean?” Obama said.
By Ben Velderman at EAGnews.org