Class of 2003
By Gavin Lesnick
Michelle Obama stands on stage as the UAPB commencement ceremony begins Saturday afternoon.
First Lady Michelle Obama today urged graduates from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to work to overcome their obstacles and to grow from the experience.
Obama, the commencement speaker for the spring 2010 class, spoke this afternoon at the Pine Bluff Convention Center before an audience of thousands of students, family members, politicians and others.
Overcoming difficult times in life is often necessary to achieve ambitious goals, Obama said, citing the examples of Martin Luther King Jr., transplant surgeon and UAPB graduate Dr. Samuel L. Kountz and her husband, President Barack Obama.
"That's the thing about striving in the face of adversity: Often it's the hardships and sacrifices that make you stronger," Obama said.
Obama said that Kountz - the first person to conduct a kidney transplant on people who were not identical twins - actually failed his entrance exam and had to convince UAPB to let him in. That he did so likely saved many lives because his education helped him become a leader in his field, Obama said.
"There are people like Dr. Kountz everywhere," she said. "They are sitting among you today."
Obama also shared a story of one of Saturday's graduates, biology degree recipient Quiana Childress.
At 16, Childress was living out of her car and working long hours as a nursing assistant. She almost gave up, but found renewed inspiration by shifting her outlook one day at work, Obama said.
"She thought not about her own troubles, she thought about those of her patients," Obama said. "She thought about how sick they were and how much pain they were in. And at that moment, she realized - this is her quote - 'they needed me more than I needed to give up.' At that moment, I know Quiana found herself. She found her true calling in life to be a doctor."
Several times during the speech, Obama referenced the first class at UAPB - a group of seven students who took classes more than 130 years ago and "just a decade past slavery."
"There was no guarantee of opportunity when they graduated," Obama said. "But still, with hope in their hearts and faith in their God-given potential, they came here anyway. They came to do the only thing they could and that was to learn. So let's just imagine how those seven students would feel if they could see all of you here today."
Obama then noted some of the school's achievements, including its Vesper Choir playing at the Vatican, its ROTC program graduating a student who became a U.S. Army General and its Golden Lions making the NCAA men's basketball tournament this year. The latter drew one of the loudest reactions of the 25-minute speech.
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