May 16th, 2009
06:15 PM ET
14 years ago

First lady addresses first graduating class of UC-Merced

(CNN) - Dream big and give back, Michelle Obama told the first graduating class of University of California-Merced on Saturday in her first commencement speech as the first lady.

"Remember that you are blessed - remember that in exchange for those blessings you must give something back," Obama told the sprawling, cheering crowd at the university. "You must reach back and pull someone up. You must bend down and let someone else stand on your shoulders so that they can see a brighter future."

The trip to the state university system's newest and smallest campus was her first trip to California since her husband, President Barack Obama, took office.

The fledgling school, which opened in 2005 and has a 2,700-member student body, worked hard to get the first lady's attention, writing letters to Michelle Obama, her office, her friends and family, according to the White House. They even started a "Dear Michelle" Facebook campaign that sent out some 900 Valentine's Day cards to her.

The first lady accepted the invitation in March, tapping University of California-Merced as her only stop on this year's collegiate-commencement circuit.

Obama has also agreed to speak at the Washington Math and Science Technical High School on June 3.

"A few people may be wondering why did I choose the University of California-Merced to deliver my first commencement speech as first lady," said
Obama, in full academic dress. "Let me tell you something, the answer is simple: You inspired me."

"My office received thousands of letters and, of course, Valentine's cards from students - each and every one of them so filled with hope and
enthusiasm," she added.

She noted that many of the more than 300 graduates are from the 250,000-population central California city, and are quite familiar with grassroots efforts. They staged a similar letter-writing campaign to get the university system to open a school in their city.

"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," Obama said. "I just love the fact that some of the graduates sitting in this audience today participating were involved in that campaign as well and they used the
same strategy to get me here - that is amazing."

After her speech, Obama was given one of five chancellor's medals for exceptional achievement - the university's highest honor - awarded Saturday.

Filed under: Michelle Obama
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Simmy

    First Lady, you inspire me......Keep it up.......Love you much....

    May 16, 2009 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  2. gary davis Harbor Oregon

    what a thrill to have the first lady give a speech

    way cool for the grad's .. it all goes down in history

    what a wonderful new world we live in .

    May 16, 2009 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  3. Cali Mike

    Michelle....inspires me. Maybe more than her husband who is doing a decent job at a hard task with little appreciation. President Obama makes all the right moves but Michelle is just down home neighborly and friendly.

    I think I have a jones for the First Lady

    May 16, 2009 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  4. the rector

    It still irks me that this "every family" spends $60,000 a year sending their girls to private school, while public schools are in terrible disarray, and obama has pledged to support Every Child Kept Behind which sucks the life out of education and teaches children to hate learning by making it a contest for federal dollars. That said she is, like her hubby, a well trained public speaker and has the attention of the press, so let the propaganda fly.

    May 16, 2009 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  5. annie for Palin

    I have always given to charities and helped people when and where I could, but these two 'never done anything for anyone but themselves' trying to cram it down everyone's throat makes me not want to give to anyone or anything. Guess they don't remember the 'charity' numbers on their first public tax return. They are cut from the same mold as pelosi. The lie mold!

    May 16, 2009 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  6. Lise T

    Great Job!!!
    A pleasure to watch. "No man is an Island" if we care only for ourselves the world will fall apart around us.

    May 16, 2009 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  7. Rosy

    FL was outstanding and look beautiful. WOW isn't it great.

    May 16, 2009 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  8. Ted

    Everyone loves you, Michelle. You are a great first lady.

    May 16, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  9. mike

    I didn't vote for your husband, but we appreciate you coming to the San Jouquin valley.

    May 16, 2009 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  10. Ted Tartaglia

    Michelle Obama delivered a moving and inspirational address to the graduating students at the University of California – Merced students. I thought it was very appropriate when she reminded the students of their obligation to give something back in return for the education they had received.

    May 16, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  11. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    She gave an awesome speach.

    May 16, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  12. Michael in San Diego

    This was an inspiring story... I don't necessarily agree with all of "President" Obama's efforts (actually, I've never agreed with ANY politician on everything) but, so far, I have liked what I've seen from the first lady. I think the University students were wise to select her.

    The First Lady has also done well to do simple things like the home gardens, understated dresses, support for troops families, and bringing school kids into the White House. She has largely avoided the political issues so I don't think it's much of a stretch to assume that even some Republicans might find her efforts appealing.

    She's come a long way from the early depictions of her on the New Yorker magazine as a revolutionary with a bandolier across her chest. Just goes to show you how crazy the media can be at times. I just hope this is viewed as a genuine gesture and not an attempt by her (or her husband) to grab the spotlight. I think it's just another of her simple responses to an incredibly motivated group of students.

    May 16, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  13. justwaitandsee

    Yo go m

    May 16, 2009 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  14. MK

    Michelle Obama is one of our Country's greatest assets, she is first class.

    May 16, 2009 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  15. renea

    She is a inspiration to me GOD BLESS Her and Her Husband.

    May 16, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  16. Zelda

    Can anyone take seriously anthing this racist has to say? She is angry black women who hates the USA. This is will not change.

    May 16, 2009 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  17. DaBird

    When she said give back, she meant to the Unions, Democratic Party, and ACORN.

    May 16, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  18. J of K

    So, I am without an income, now – where is my portion of the $300,00.00 salary the Michele got in 2008 without attending a day of work?

    May 16, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  19. Diane Dagenais Turbide

    Authentic speech!

    May 16, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  20. Althea Annette Roberson

    Great8!!!! Job!!! FirstLady Ms Michelle Obama!!!!:) I am so proud of you excellent representation for the students graduating at Merced College today!!! Wonderfullllllll!! Thank you so much for encouraging the students and area. You are an inspiration!! Thank God..:) Keep up the Great8 work.! I am so happy as I was the only National Park Ranger in Yosemite that was a Black Woman from 1983-1995. I moved to Pennsylvania and hear they never hired another one permanetly.. Thank you so much as I have retired from Govt in 2005 on disability. I am older than you as I am 48. 🙂 Outstanding Job in Motivating my home area and for the students in keeping there hope alive.:)

    May 16, 2009 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  21. hellokitti

    Obviously a higher caliber school than ASU. ASU students really disgraced themselves and their school last week. ASU will no longer be an option for my daughter who thought she might apply there as her safety school.

    May 16, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  22. peter

    Good for the California Merced university.I hope veryone will walk up after the Notre Dame controversies and move forward. GOP may try their best to got Obama but Obamania will always be the winner no matter what. Good Job first Lady for doing the job well done.

    May 16, 2009 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  23. Dee, NJ

    Ms. Obama, You are the Mother of America! Thank You!

    May 16, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  24. Willy Brown

    How about you and your husband give back thr white house to america and you all go back to thug town

    May 16, 2009 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |