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蜜雪兒.歐巴馬為2014年迪拉德大學畢業生演講

Dillard University 2014 Commencement Address by Michelle Obama
 

Photo of three lions hunting on the Serengeti.

講者:蜜雪兒.歐巴馬
2014年5月10日演講
 
翻譯:洪曉慧
編輯:朱學恆
簡繁轉換:洪曉慧
後製:洪曉慧
字幕影片後制:謝旻均
 
 
關於這場演講(來源dillard.edu
美國第一夫人蜜雪兒.歐巴馬於2014年5月10日星期六為迪拉德大學畢業生演講。
 
關於蜜雪兒.歐巴馬(來源wikipedia
蜜雪兒.歐巴馬(生於1964年1月17日)是美國律師和作家。她嫁給美國第44任兼現任總統巴拉克.歐巴馬,是美國史上首位非裔第一夫人。她成長於芝加哥南區,畢業於普林斯頓大學和哈佛法學院,職業生涯早期任職於盛德國際律師事務所,她在那裡遇見歐巴馬。之後,她曾擔任芝加哥市長Richard M. Daley的幕僚,也曾為芝加哥大學醫學中心服務。
 
 
身為芝加哥公立學校優秀校友,蜜雪兒.歐巴馬女士於1988年畢業於哈佛法學院之後加入芝加哥盛德國際律師事務所,幾年後,歐巴馬女士決定自己真正的使命是與他人共同服務社區。她於芝加哥市政廳擔任助理委員,負責城市規劃與發展。歐巴馬女士也曾擔任芝加哥大學學生服務中心副院長,並擔任芝加哥大學醫療中心社區服務部首位執行主任。身為第一夫人,歐巴馬女士繼續從事她熱愛的工作。她發起的運動包括協助軍眷的「聯合力量平台」,促進兒童健康的「動起來」運動。她上周發起一項最新的運動「更上層樓」,旨在鼓勵高中生進大學就讀。她總是將社區放在第一位,從未忘記自己的成長經歷以及對現今世界產生的影響。歐巴馬女士曾以親身經歷闡述,無論你來自哪裡,都能擁有遠大的夢想,並使夢想成真,別讓出身定義你的人生和未來。在2014年5月10日這個特殊的日子,請2014年畢業生跟我一起歡迎我們的畢業演講嘉賓-美國第一夫人蜜雪兒.歐巴馬女士。
 
天哪!早安。很高興與大家共聚一堂,很榮幸來到紐奧良。看看你們!你們看起來容光煥發。謝謝。我想先感謝Nicole精彩的介紹以及分享她的故事,她的故事對我來說並不陌生,因為也有人說我不可能達到今天的成就。因此我要感謝Nicole,我為她感到驕傲。謝謝你的自拍照,我想這是我在畢業典禮上的首張自拍照,所以Nicole,你是我的第一次。當然,我也要感謝迪拉德大學合唱團。喔喔喔!喔喔喔!我只能這麼說。你們似乎很期待接下來的內容,對嗎?我們現在正在進行畢業典禮。太美妙了,十分感謝。我也想感謝Mary Landrieu參議員,她在那裡,我們給她一個掌聲,她一直是這所大學的死忠支持者。我想感謝迪拉德大學校董會委員,我想感謝全體教職員。當然,還有你們傑出的校長Walter Kimbrough博士。好,這些年來我丈夫獲得許多稱謂,但不曾有幸獲得「嘻哈總統」的美譽,所以-我還想感謝今天招待我們的紐奧良大學全體同仁,我知道他們還得招待南方大學紐奧良分校參加今天晚些時候舉行的畢業典禮來賓,因此祝他們擁有美好的一天。感謝你們的邀請。當然,我要為所有在場的學生家屬歡呼,所有家屬,尤其是母親,因為明天就是母親節,祝所有母親:母親節快樂。
 
好,各位畢業生,你們都做好準備了嗎?即將畢業不代表你們就能-拜託-好,如果你們還沒做好準備,我允許你們現在起身離場,因為沒有任何事的重要性勝於-不不,別站起來,如果現在站起來,你們的母親肯定會殺了你們。所以乖乖坐著,等典禮結束後,確定別忘了替母親節做準備。但我很嚴肅地說,現場所有母親以及所有父親、祖父母、叔舅姑姨、兄弟姐妹,你們都曾對畢業生的成長給予幫助,陪伴他們度過人生的高低起伏。你們將心血灌注在這些人身上,因此今天也是屬於你們的日子。你們應該感到非常自豪,真的。最後,最重要的是,我想恭喜2014年迪拉德大學美麗帥氣的畢業生們。耶!我知道你們都經歷過艱辛的路程才獲得今天的成就,包括早期一些從威廉斯大樓偷溜出來見男友的女孩。是的,我做了研究,包括你們參加過的無數考試,包括你們為了職業生涯或繼續唸研究所做的計劃。你們都經歷過許多,你們目睹卡崔娜颶風後學校的重建,新建築取代毀損的建築,教室重新聚滿學生,協助社區的服務計畫再次啟動。
 
我知道在達到今天成就的過程中,每個人都有自己堅毅不屈的故事,例如Nicole剛剛所說的,高中時她似乎不是唸大學的料,但現在她是你們的學生主席,即將入學耶魯研究所。就是這樣,正是如此。我知道也許有些人出身貧困,也許有些人在卡崔娜風災中失去家園,也許有些人的情況類似DeShawn Dabney。這位畢業生由祖母撫養長大,也許尖叫的就是你的祖母,對嗎,DeShawn?在其他家人忙著處理自己的問題時,他由祖母撫養長大。也許你跟他一樣,為了達成唸大學的夢想,從青少年時期就開始打工。今天你們已抵達終點,準備走上講台,領取文憑。無論你經歷過什麼樣的道路才抵達終點,都在今天實現了心中的夢想。你們克服過程中面臨的所有挑戰,獲得這所優秀大學的文憑。在這個過程中,你追隨前人的腳步,成為學校歷史中不可抹滅的一部分。
 
你們知道這個歷史可追溯到南北戰爭之前,追溯到1826年。這年,一個叫Emperor Williams的孩子誕生。Emperor一出生就成為奴隸,但在成長過程中,他設法自學讀寫,製作了一張通行證,使他能在城裡自由行走。但某天,他的主人看見這張通行證,主人問:你在哪學會寫這個的?想像一下Emperor聽見這個問題時有多麼恐懼。因為別忘了,當時奴隸學習讀寫是非法的,沒人知道他會受到什麼樣的懲罰。挨揍、鞭打,甚至更糟。我們無法得知那天到底發生了什麼事,但我們知道Emperor32歲時,歷經奴隸生涯三十多年後,他成為自由人。他決定留在紐奧良,成為一名牧師,甚至在城裡建了一座教堂。1869年,廢奴主義者、傳教士、黑人和白人攜手合作,在紐奧良為獲得自由的奴隸建了一所學校,Emperor是學校章程的最初簽署者之一,他們決定將學校命名為紐奧良大學。因為雖然大多數課程只有高中或以下水準,但他們的雄心遠高於此。當他們在聖查理大街為學校的第一座建築奠基時,Emperor獲得發言機會,他說-這是他的演講原文-他說:「我在這些街道上當了二十年奴隸,為黑人提供教育曾經是應處以監禁的罪行,我見過嘗試學習的奴隸同胞遭受鞭打,但今天我站在這裡,為提供黑人兒童教育的建築開工儀式發表演講。」他繼續說:「我懷疑這是否是我所誕生的世界。」在他短暫的一生中,Emperor見證了黑人教育從一項罪行變成子孫都能擁有的機會,難怪他會問:「這是否是我所誕生的世界?」
 
因此對於像Emperor這樣的人來說,獲得教育能開啟一個充滿機會的新世界。教育意味著擁有真正的力量,意味著你可以掌控自己的錢,意味著你不會輕信他人所言在虛線上方簽名,而被騙取土地或財產。有時這甚至決定了你是否能投票。因此當時有些人將教育視為獲得真正且長久自由的關鍵,這就是為何紐澳良大學和鎮上另一所非裔美籍人士就讀的大學-Straight大學,首次招生時,它們面臨的最大問題之一就是學生太多。是的,學生太多,很多學生幾乎不會說英語,他們的母語是克里奧爾語或法語。有些人沒見過教室,甚至連字母都不曾學過。但我告訴你們,這些學生充滿對學習的渴望,瞭解嗎?渴望。他們拼命學習,求知若渴,這種對接受教育的渴望在紐奧良非裔美籍人士群體中持續了好幾代。1877年一位縱火犯燒了學校圖書館後,他們又新建了一座。數年後,這兩所最先建立的學校面臨財務困境時,他們開始計畫建立一所更大更好的大學。1930年代,白人開始抱怨這所新學校導致太多黑人學生坐在他們的公車上,學校人員要求市政單位為黑人學生設立了一條公車專線,因為沒有任何事、沒有任何事能阻止他們實現早期建校者的遠大理想。最後,在1934年5月,這所學校-迪拉德大學-得以成立,一所將為我們國家培養思想領導者和成功人士的大學。
 
在學校圖書館奠基的那天,霍華德大學校長說了這些話:「今天,在這片南方土地下的無名墓裡埋葬了許多優秀的黑人,他們祝福這座城市和這片土地,只希望前人能為他們建立一所像迪拉德這樣的大學。」從那時起,雖然經歷種族隔離與經濟蕭條,經歷暴力威脅與暴風雨引發的洪水,像你們這樣的學生依然前來這裡學習,學習傳承前人的希望和夢想。今天我站在一群青年才俊面前,喔耶!因此畢業生們,我希望你們理解,今天並非只是你們夢想的實現,也是許多前人夢想的實現。你們應該對未來感到自豪、喜悅與興奮,但你們不應就此滿足,因為-你們取得今天的成就是很棒的事,你們需要自問:那些沒有這種機會的人呢?我是指紐奧良及全國各地沒機會參加這種畢業典禮的年輕人,那些不比我們差的人,那些甚至連高中都無法畢業的人。如今黑人學生的高中畢業率正在改善,但仍低於國內其它群體,儘管幾乎所有其他群體的大學畢業率都逐漸提高,包括非裔美籍女性,非裔美籍男性的大學畢業率卻保持不變。實際情況是,當年輕人在學業上落後,就會在生活中落後。去年,非裔美國人的失業率比白人多兩倍,貧困率幾乎是白人的三倍,因罪入獄或成為暴力犯罪受害者的比例也遠勝於白人。
 
聽見這些統計資料,你或許會想,這些數字很糟,但這個問題與我無關。你或許會想,你不是這些統計數字的一部分。你坐在這裡,穿著整齊的黑袍,你可以繼續你的人生,不必回顧這一切。但像我和你們這樣的人絕不能這麼想,絕對不能因為我們都是幸運的人,我們不能忘記我們並非僅憑自己的力量達到今天的成就。我們能有今天有賴於許多人流血流汗,甚至犧牲,包括我們的父母、祖父母以及他們所有的前人。這些人不曾夢想自己有機會接受大學教育,卻努力工作、節儉度日、犧牲自我,我們才能獲得今天的成就。我們虧欠他們,我們虧欠他們,償還這份債務的唯一方法就是為下一代做出同樣的犧牲和投資。我知道對坐在這裡的你們來說這個任務似乎太過沉重,我知道這對你們年輕人來說似乎是遙不可及的目標。事實上我們面臨的一些問題,社會結構不平等、學校教育落後、職場與生活中的歧視,這些問題太過龐大,並非一個人能獨力解決。但並非我們袖手旁觀的藉口,因為我們知道,如今教育仍是真正且長久自由的關鍵,現今仍然如此。現在輪到我們來滿足自身及其他人對教育的渴望。
 
我們知道對教育的渴望依然存在,我們看見這份渴望,在像DeShawn和Nicole這樣的學生身上,在所有歷經艱辛達成今天成就的人身上,在身兼三職才能讓孩子有機會獲得和你們一樣學位的單親母親身上。我看見這份渴望存在於世界各地。一位叫馬拉拉的巴基斯坦少女在校車上慘遭槍擊,只因為她公開發表支持女性教育的言論。200多名渴望接受教育的女孩在奈及利亞的學校遭到綁架,每天都有年輕人冒著生命危險只為了上學唸書。事實上你們也能在迪拉德大學看見這份渴望,畢業典禮致辭代表和三位第二致辭代表都來自奈及利亞,他們經過早年的努力學習獲得獎學金來到這所大學,獲得GPA(學業成績平均點數)4.0的優秀成績,現在他們正準備繼續攻讀碩士、從事軟體開發、教導美國年輕人數學和科學,這就是我們需要在所有群體重新激發的對教育的渴望。正是這份渴望使這所大學誕生,正是這份渴望定義了我們的前人,包括我自己。
 
你知道,我父母不曾唸過大學,但他們決定讓我和弟弟以及社區裡所有孩子都獲得良好教育,因此我母親在學校做義工,在辦公前廳協助處理日常事務,確保老師盡到應有的職責。如果她認為不合格,就會向他們施壓。我從辦公室走過,看見她在那裡,我離開教室上廁所,她也在那裡,在教學大樓遊蕩,巡視教室。當然,身為孩子的我不得不說這讓人有點鬱悶,母親總在學校盯著你。但回顧這一切,毫無疑問,我和我的同學能獲得良好教育,都因為她對這些教師的監督。我母親不是老師、也不是學校主管或校董會成員,但談到教育時,她擁有這份渴望。她堅信我們的教育與她息息相關,我們需要更多像我母親這樣思考和行動的人。在座所有母親也是如此。因為年輕人的教育與我們息息相關,這就是Emperor Williams的想法,這就是紐奧良人在卡崔娜颶風後重建校園時的想法。
 
身為迪拉德大學畢業生,這就是你們餘生每天都應有的想法。你們擁有許多前人不曾夢想過的機會、技能和教育,因此想像一下你們可能產生的影響,想像你能如何鼓舞周遭的人擁有更高的志向,並完成自身的教育。你可以從小事做起,例如在課後項目中擔任志願者,或幫助高中生填寫大學入學申請,向他們闡述你的人生經歷。或者你可以從稍微大一點的地方著手,你可以在整個地區或你的社區發起輔導項目,也許是說服你的新雇主為貧困學生提供獎學金。或者也許你可以擁有稍微高一點的目標,也許你可以競選教委會委員或國會議員。或者-是的,甚至美國總統。或許你可以為每個孩子建立學前教育機構,或許你可以協助將通往監獄的窄路變成通往大學的坦途,幫助美國每一個孩子接受他們應有的教育。這些夢想與這所大學建立者的夢想一樣遠大,這就是他們設立的遠大目標。因此我們虧欠這些人,這些膽敢將小學校命名為「大學」、將孩子命名為「皇帝」的人。我們虧欠他們,我們需要設定跟他們一樣遠大的目標,並引領其他人加入我們的行列。這所學校的歷史告訴我們:沒有不能做的夢,沒有不能奢求的願景,只要我們保持對教育的渴望,讓這份渴望成為我們的北極星,沒有任何-畢業生們-沒有任何我們無法達成的目標。
 
因此畢業生們,這是你們的使命,這是你們的責任。我希望你們不斷朝更高的目標努力,我希望你們不斷提高自己的目標,讓下一代知道沒有比良好教育更棒的投資。如果能做到這一切,我堅信你們將完成這份職責,在這所偉大學校的歷史上寫下屬於你的一頁。我告訴各位,我等不及看見你們的子女會誕生在什麼樣的世界。恭喜各位,我愛你們,很榮幸來到這裡,我以你們為榮,上帝保佑你們,感謝你們的家人。
 
校長先生。很榮幸為你引介蜜雪兒.歐巴馬女士,人文學榮譽博士候選人。很高興能將這份榮譽授予一位用行動證明服務精神的人。無論你在人生中扮演什麼角色,你為本校使命所珍視的原則樹立了榜樣,那就是培養具有文化自覺與人文關懷的學生。你藉由你的工作證明這一點。你關注健康、營養和環境,你激勵整個國家,讓所有人動起來,吃新鮮蔬菜、盡己所能節約能源、保護地球。你對軍人家屬的貢獻,讓我們意識到我們有責任關懷這些人。他們犧牲個人,使我們能在世上最強大的國家過著和平自由的生活。你是用權力造福民眾的典範,你是美國年輕女性的楷模,尤其是黑人年輕女性。身為美國人,我們尊敬你的聰明才智,我們喜歡你的換裝遊戲,手臂若隱若現地露在外面,還有完美無瑕的髮型。因此,基於全體教職員的推薦和迪拉德大學校董會的批准,我授予你人文榮譽博士學位,以及所有與此相關的權利、特權和責任。
 

以下為系統擷取之英文原文

About this Talk

First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver the address at Dillard University on Saturday, May 10.

About the Speaker

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (born January 17, 1964) is an American lawyer and writer. She is married to the 44th and current President of the United States, Barack Obama, and is the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Raised on the South Side of Chicago, she is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and spent the early part of her legal career working at the law firm Sidley Austin, where she met Barack. Subsequently, she worked as part of the staff of Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, and for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Transcript

MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness! Good morning!

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

MRS. OBAMA: I am so happy to be here with you all. I'm proud to be here in the Big Easy. Look at you all! (Applause.) You look good.

STUDENT: You do too!

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Laughter.) I want to start by thanking Nicole for that very kind introduction and for sharing her story, which is not too unfamiliar to me -- because they told me I couldn't be where I am, too. So I want to thank Nicole. I'm proud of her. Thank you for the selfie; I think that's the first selfie I've done at a commencement. So, Nicole, you're my first. (Laughter.)

And of course, I want to thank the Dillard University Choir. Oh, oh, oh! (Applause.) Oh! That's all I can say. It's like you want to start something up in here, right? (Laughter.) It's like, now we got a commencement going on up in here. (Laughter.) That was beautiful, beautiful. Thank you so much.

I also want to recognize Senator Mary Landrieu, who is here. Let's give her a hand. (Applause.) She has been a strong supporter of this university.

I want to thank the Dillard University Board of Trustees. I want to thank the faculty, the staff, and, of course, your tremendous president, Dr. Walter Kimbrough. (Applause.) Now, my husband has been called a few things over the years, but he has never had the honor of being referred to as the “Hip Hop President.” (Applause.)

I also want to thank all the folks from the University of New Orleans for hosting us here today. And I know they're hosting the folks at Southern University at New Orleans for their commencement later on today as well, so we wish them a wonderful day. And thank you for having us. (Applause.)

And of course, I've got to give a big shout-out to all the family members in the crowd, all of the family members -- (applause) -- especially to the mothers, because it is the day before Mother's Day. To all the mothers, Happy Mother's Day. (Applause.)

Now, graduates, you all handled your business, right? Just because you were graduating didn't mean you -- come on, now. (Laughter.) Okay, well, if you didn't, you have my permission to get up and go right now, because there is nothing more important -- no, no, don't get up. (Laughter.) Your mothers would kill you if you got up at this moment. (Laughter.) So just stay in your seats, and when this is all over make sure you take care of mom.

But in all seriousness, to all the moms out there -- as well as the dads and the grandparents, the uncles, the aunts, the brothers, the sisters, all of you who have helped raise these graduates -- you have seen them through their ups and downs, and you have poured your hearts and souls into these men and women. So today is your day, too, and you should be very proud. You really should. (Applause.)

And finally, most of all, I want to congratulate the beautiful and handsome men and women of the Dillard University Class of 2014. Yay! (Applause.) You all have come so far, I know, to make it to this day -- from all those early days when the girls were sneaking out of Williams Hall to go see the boys over at the Duals -- oh yeah, I did my research -- (laughter) -- to all those tests you crammed for, to the plans you're making now for your careers, to go on to graduate school.

You all have seen so much. You've witnessed this school's rebirth after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina -- the new buildings that replaced the ones you lost, the classrooms that started filling back up again, the service projects that you all have done to help this community bounce back. And I know along the way that each of you has written your own story of resilience and determination to make it here to this day.

For example, as you heard, Nicole was told back in high school that she just wasn't college material. But now she is your class president, and she's headed off to Yale for her graduate degree. So there. (Applause.) That's it.

And I know that some of you may come from tough neighborhoods; some of you may have lost your homes during Katrina. Maybe you're like DeShawn Dabney, a graduate who was raised by his grandmother -- (applause) -- maybe -- that's your grandmother, isn't it, DeShawn? (Laughter.) Raised by his grandmother while some of his family members were dealing with issues. Maybe just like him, you've been working part-time jobs since you were a teenager to make your dream of going to college come true. And now, today, you're all here ready to walk across this stage and get that diploma.

And no matter what path you took to get here, you all kept your hearts set on this day. You fought through every challenge you encountered, and you earned that degree from this fine university. And in doing so, you are following in the footsteps of all those who came before you, and you have become an indelible part of the history of this school -- a history that, as you all know, stretches back to well before the Civil War, back to 1826, the year a child named Emperor Williams was born.

Now, Emperor was born into slavery. But as he grew up, he managed to teach himself to read and write well enough to create a pass that allowed him to come and go around the city without getting hassled. But one day, his master saw the pass and he said, where did you learn to write like that? Now, just imagine the fear Emperor must have felt when he heard that question -- because remember, back then it was illegal for a slave to learn to read or write. So who knows what kind of punishment he may have gotten -- a beating, a whipping, even worse.

We don't exactly know what happened on that day, but we do know that when Emperor turned 32, after more than three decades in bondage, he became a free man. He decided to stay in New Orleans, and he went on to become a minister -- even founded a church right here in town. And in 1869, when abolitionists, missionaries, black folks and white folks came together to create a school for freed slaves here in New Orleans, Emperor was one of the original signers of the charter.

They decided to name the school New Orleans University, because even though most of the classes would be taught at a high school level or below, oh, their aspirations were much higher than that. And when they laid the cornerstone for that university's first building down on St. Charles Avenue, Emperor got a chance to speak.

He said -- and these are his words -- he said, “For twenty years I was a slave on these streets. It was a penitentiary offense to educate a Negro. I have seen my fellow-servants whipped for trying to learn; but today here I am [am I], speaking where a building is to be erected for the education of the children of my people.” He goes on to say, “I wonder if this is the world I was born in.”

See, in the course of his short lifetime, Emperor saw education go from being a crime for black folks to being a real possibility for his kids and grandkids. So no wonder he was asking whether this was the same world he'd been born into. See, for a man like Emperor, getting an education could open up a whole new world of opportunity. An education meant having real power. It meant you could manage your own money. It meant you couldn't get swindled out of land or possessions when somebody told you to just sign on the dotted line; sometimes even determined whether or not you could vote.

So most folks back then saw education as the key to real and lasting freedom. That's why, when New Orleans University and the other African American college in town, Straight University, first opened their doors, one of the biggest problems they faced was too many students. That's right -- too many students. Many of these students barely spoke English; they'd grown up speaking Creole or French. Few had ever seen the inside of a classroom or even been taught their ABCs.

But let me tell you, those students were hungry -- you hear me? Hungry. They studied like their lives depended on it. They blazed through their lessons. And that hunger for education lasted for generations in the African American community here in New Orleans.

When an arsonist set fire to the school's library in 1877, they built a new one. When those two original schools ran into financial troubles years later, they started making plans to build an even bigger and better university. And in the 1930s, when white folks complained that this new school would mean too many black students on their buses, the folks at the school got the city to add a bus line just for their students, because nothing -- nothing -- was going to stop them from achieving the vision of those early founders. (Applause.)

And finally, in May of 1934, they broke ground for this school, Dillard University -- (applause) -- a university that would go on to produce some of the leading thinkers and achievers in our country. And the day the cornerstone was laid for your library, the President of Howard University spoke these words: He said, “There lies in this Southland today, buried in unmarked graves, many a black genius who would have blessed this city and this section of our country, if [only] his parents could have had before them the Dillard University you are now building.”

And in the years since then, through segregation and depression, through threats of violence and the floodwaters of a devastating storm, students like you have come here to study and to learn, and to carry forward those hopes and dreams. And today, I stand before a sea of young geniuses. Oh, yeah. (Applause.)

So, graduates, I hope that you understand that this day is not just the culmination of your own dreams, but the realization of the dreams of so many who came before you. And you should be so proud, and so happy, and so excited about your futures. But what you shouldn't be is satisfied. (Applause.) See, because while it is a wonderful thing that all of you are here today, we have to ask ourselves, what about all those geniuses who never get this chance?

I'm talking about the young people from right here in New Orleans and across the country who aren't part of a commencement like this one today, kids no different from all of us, kids who never made it out of high school. The fact is that today, the high school graduation rate for black students is improving, but it is still lower than just about any other group in this country. And while college graduation rates have risen for nearly every other demographic, including African American women, the college graduation rate for African American men has flatlined.

See, and the thing is, when our young people fall behind like that in school, they fall behind in life. Last year, African Americans were more than twice as likely as whites to be unemployed. They were almost three times as likely to live in poverty. And they were far more likely to end up in prison or be the victims of violent crimes.

Now, perhaps when you hear these statistics, you might think to yourself, well, those numbers are terrible, but I'm not part of the problem. And you might be thinking that since you're not one of those statistics, and you're sitting here wearing that nice black robe today, you can go on your way and never look back.

But folks like you and me, we can't afford to think like that -- never. See, because we're the lucky ones, and we can never forget that we didn't get where we are today all on our own. We got here today because of so many people who toiled and sweat and bled and died for us -- people like our parents and grandparents and all those who came before them, people who never dreamed of getting a college education themselves but who worked, and saved, and sacrificed so that we could be here today. We owe them. (Applause.) We owe them.

And the only way to pay back that debt is by making those same kinds of sacrifices and investments for the next generation. And I know sitting here right now, that task could seem a bit overwhelming. I know it could seem like the deck is stacked way too high against our young people. And the truth is that some of the problems we face -- structural inequality, schools that lag behind, workplace and housing discrimination -- those problems are too big for one person to fix on their own.

But that's still no excuse to stand on the sidelines. Because we know that today, education is still the key to real and lasting freedom -- it is still true today. So it is now up to us to cultivate that hunger for education in our own lives and in those around us. And we know that hunger is still out there -- we know it.

We see it in students like DeShawn and Nicole and all of you who scraped and clawed so you could make it to this day. We see it in the single moms who work three jobs so their kids might have a shot at earning a degree like yours. (Applause.) We see that hunger all around the world -- in that young woman named Malala who was shot on her school bus in Pakistan just for speaking out in support of girls getting an education, and the more than 200 girls kidnapped from their own school in Nigeria for wanting an education -- (applause) -- young people who are knowingly risking their lives every day just to go to school.

And in fact, you've seen that hunger right here at Dillard: your valedictorian, three salutatorians are all from Nigeria. (Applause.) They studied hard at an early age, earned scholarships to come here to this university, achieved 4.0 GPAs. And now they are off pursuing master's degrees, work in software development, teaching math and science to young people here in the United States.

See, now, that's the kind of hunger for education that we have to reignite in all of our communities. It's the same hunger that gave life to this university, the same hunger that defined so many of our parents and grandparents -- including my own. You see, my parents never went to college, but they were determined to see me and my brother and all the kids in our neighborhood get a good education. (Applause.)

So my mother volunteered at my school -- helping out every day in the front office, making sure our teachers were doing their jobs, holding their feet to the fire if she thought they were falling short. I'd walk by the office and there she'd be. (Laughter.) I'd leave class to go to the bathroom, there she'd be again, roaming the halls, looking in the classrooms. And of course, as a kid, I have to say, that was a bit mortifying, having your mother at school all the time.

But looking back, I have no doubt that my classmates and I got a better education because she was looking over those teachers' shoulders. (Applause.) You see, my mom was not a teacher or a principal or a school board member. But when it came to education, she had that hunger. So she believed that our education was very much her business.

And we need more people who think and act like my mother, and all those mothers out there, because the education of our young people is all of our business. That's what Emperor Williams thought. That's what the folks here in New Orleans thought as they worked to rebuild this campus after Katrina. And as graduates of Dillard University, that's how we need you to think every single day for the rest of your lives.

You all have opportunities and skills and education that so many folks who came before you never could have dreamed of. So just imagine the kind of impact that you're going to make. Imagine how you can inspire those around you to reach higher and complete their own education.

And you can start small. Start by volunteering at an after-school program, or helping some high school kids fill out their college applications. Show them the path that you took. Or you can think a little bigger -- you can get your entire congregation or your community to start a mentoring program; maybe convince your new employer to sponsor scholarships for underprivileged kids. Or maybe you could think a little higher -- maybe you could run for school board or Congress, or, yes, even President of the United States. (Applause.)

And then maybe you could build preschools for every single one of our kids. Maybe you could help turn that pipeline to prison into a highway to college; help give every child in America an education that is truly worth of their promise. Those are the kind of big dreams that folks who founded this university reached for. That is how high they set their bar.

And so we owe it to those folks -- the folks who had the audacity to call their little schools “universities” and name their baby boys “Emperor” -- we owe it to them to reach as high as they did, and to bring others along the way. As the history of this school has taught us, no dream is too big, no vision is too bold; as long as we stay hungry for education and let that hunger be our North Star, there is nothing, graduates, nothing that we cannot achieve.

So, graduates, that is your mission. This is your obligation. I want you to keep reaching higher. I want you all to keep raising your bars. Let the next generation know that there is no greater investment than a good education. And if you do all of this, then I am confident that you will uphold that duty and write your own chapter into the legacy of this great university. And let me tell you something, I cannot wait to see the world that your children will be born into.

Congratulations. I love you all. I am honored to be here. I am proud of you. God bless you. And thank your families. (Applause.)


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