First Lady Michelle Obama honored a slain honor student during an emotional speech to hundreds of teenagers at King College Prep High School in Chicago Tuesday evening.
The First Lady delivered her commencement speech after students at the high school won a contest promoting financial aid awareness by parodying the hit drama Scandal. Michelle also chose the school after the loss of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old who marched in President Obama’s inaugural parade.
The teen was fatally shot in 2013 after leaving school.
Growing up close to the high school, Mrs. Obama urged the students to stay hungry and show the world what the south side of Chicago really looks like. She also shared her first day jitters at Princeton, and how she managed to overcome her fears and worries by staying strong, resilient, and true to herself. According to The New York Times,
“I’m here tonight because I want people across this country to know that story –- the real story of the South Side,” she said. “The story of that quiet majority of good folks—families like mine and young people like all of you who face real challenges but make good choices every single day. I’m here tonight because I want you all to know, graduates, that with your roots in this community and your education from this school, you have everything—you hear me, everything—you need to succeed.”
She honored Pendleton and her family for keeping her memory alive. The school left an open chair for the young teen, covered in flowers and her favorite color purple. The family was given a cap and gown with a class ring.
“If Hadiya’s friends and family could survive their heartbreak and pain, if they could found organizations to honor her unfulfilled dreams, if they could inspire folks across this country to wear orange to protest gun violence, then I know you all can live your life with the same determination and joy that Hadiya lived her life,” Mrs. Obama told them. “I know you all can dig deep and keep on fighting to fulfill your own dreams.”
Mrs. Obama also spoke at the teen’s funeral in 2013. Calling the students an inspiration, she assured them their worries about the future will not hold them back.
“So maybe you’ve been tested a lot more, and a lot earlier in life than many other young people; maybe you have more scars than they do,” she said. But Mrs. Obama added: “You embody all of the courage and love, all of the hunger and hope that have always defined these communities — our communities. And I am so proud of you all, and I stay inspired because of you, and I can’t wait to see everything you all achieve in the years ahead.”
You can check out the rest of the First Lady’s exceptional speech in full here.