President Obama has been heavily criticized in recent days, including by yours truly, for failing to convey a sense of empathy and emotion as the Gulf crisis winds on, for going MIA on the inspirational leadership qualities a president needs during bad times.
You may have missed it, but Obama was heartfelt, sincere, direct, and truly inspiring Friday in a speech to the graduating class of Anacostia High School in Washington.
What a sea change from the slightly sullen looking candidate’s wife we saw at times during the campaign who said she was just getting around to being proud of her country. She may have had trouble feeling pride in America, but she sure believes in the American dream.
And after her remarks at this school, located in one of the Washington’s many hard luck neighborhoods, a lot of the graduating seniors might just believe in it too.
Here’s some stirring video of the event to get you caught up.
While this tearful moment the one the news organizations covering the event focused on, the rest of the First Lady’s remarks were an eloquent offer of redemption mixed with a clear eyed understanding of the uphill struggle many of these children face and non-nonsense advice for them.
Just listen as you read below to the wonderful cadence of her speech, pouring out a list of adversities that can defeat the soul and then suddenly admonishing: “Stop it.”
And yet, despite all you’ve achieved, despite all the obstacles you’ve already overcome with regard to your education, many of you may still be wrestling with your own personal issues and doubts. Maybe you’re taking care of a younger sibling, or maybe you are responsible for an aging grandparent or a child. Maybe you’re worried about your family’s financial situation. Or maybe you’re just feeling crushed by the weight of life’s responsibilities.
Maybe you feel like no one has your back, like you’ve been let down by people so many times that you’ve stopped believing in yourself. Maybe you feel like your destiny was written the day you were born and you ought to just rein in your hopes and scale back your dreams.
But if any of you are thinking that way, I’m here to tell you, stop it. Don’t do that. Don’t ever scale back your dreams. And don’t ever set limits on what you can achieve. And don’t think for one single moment that your destiny is out of your hands, because no one’s in control of your destiny but you. And it is never too late. You can do anything you put your minds to –- and I mean absolutely anything.
There’s uplifting talk, but no happy talk. Life is too hard, and she knows it:
Anything worth having takes time and perseverance. You’re going to have to push yourselves beyond your limits. You’re going to have to step outside of those comfort zones.
More importantly, part of being a mature and functioning adult in this society is realizing that life is a series of tradeoffs. If you want a career that pays a good salary, then you have to work hard. You’ve got to be on time; you’ve got to finish what you start; you have to always keep your word. If you want a life free from drama, then you can’t hang out with people who thrive on drama. You have to pick your friends wisely.
And start now, because the only thing to fear is fear itself.
Don’t expect anybody to come and hand you anything; it doesn’t work that way. If you want your own destinies and you want to control those destinies tomorrow, you’ve got to start practicing who you want to be today, because if you’re afraid to step beyond your comfort zone today and reach for the things you want today, you’ll always be afraid.
And then this:
And if Barack were here, he’d say the same thing was true for him. He’d tell you it was hard at times growing up without a father. He’d tell you that his family didn’t have a lot of money. He’d tell you he made plenty of mistakes and wasn’t always the best student. But he’d also tell you he turned things around, thanks to his mother, his grandparents, and people who cared about him.
Well, yes, he might have. But not quite as well.