In her last official speech as America’s first lady, a visibly moved Michelle Obama told a group of educators that “being your first lady has been the greatest honor of my life and I hope I’ve made you proud.” Her own voice cracking, she brought to tears several of the women standing behind her on stage at an event honoring school counselors.
“For all the young people in this room, and those who are watching: Know that this country belongs to you. To all of you. From every background and walk of life,” Obama said, in remarks geared toward America’s youth and their teachers. The White House event, held on Jan. 6, was a celebration of the 2017 School Counselor of the Year, a part of the Obama’s “Reach Higher” initiative to promote education beyond high school.
In her last year in office, Obama gave some of her most memorable speeches—and some of the most powerful remarks of the recent US presidential campaign. In a tour de force speech at the Democratic National Convention, she spoke about America’s racial legacy and of the need for women to shatter glass ceilings. Several months later, while stumping for Hillary Clinton, she gave a poignant, devastating criticism of Donald Trump’s lewd comments about women revealed in the leaked Access Hollywood tapes.
Her final speech, initially peppered with jokes about the stars attending the event, which included Jay Pharoah and Usher (“keep it together ladies”) was about opportunity, inclusion, and the future—the American dream, and the country’s “glorious diversity.”
If you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition: The infusion of new cultures, talents, and ideas, generation after generation. That has made us the greatest country on Earth. If your family doesn’t have much money, I want you to remember that in this country, plenty of folks, including me and my husband, we started out with very little. But with a lot of hard work and a good education, anything is possible. Even becoming president. That’s what the American dream is all about.
Obama emphasized the importance of education and civic engagement. “you have a right to be exactly who you are. But I also want to be very clear. This right isn’t just handed to you. No, this right has to be earned, every single day,” she said.
She also referred to her husband’s main campaign message when he first ran for president in 2008: that of hope.
It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear, that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country. Our hope that if we work hard enough, and believe in ourselves, then we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us.
She concluded with a message of support:
I want our young people to know that they matter. That they belong. So don’t be afraid. You hear me, young people? Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourselves with a good education. Then get out there, and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise. Lead by example with hope. Never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you, for the rest of my life.