First lady notes personal struggles in Chicago graduation

Michelle Obama Brings Back Mom Dancing on the 'Tonight Show'

CHICAGO (AP) -- First lady Michelle Obama drew on her hometown connections and personal struggles from college and the White House Tuesday during a Chicago high school graduation speech to the classmates of an honor student gunned down in 2013 near the Obama family home.

A boisterous crowd of thousands attended commencement for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School, a school that garnered headlines when teenager Hadiya Pendleton was fatally shot on the way home from class. Days earlier she had been in Washington, D.C., to perform with her drill team during President Barack Obama's second term inauguration festivities.

Pendleton would have graduated Tuesday. A chair - draped in purple fabric, her favorite color; a feather boa; and a bouquet of flowers - was reserved in her honor among her cap-and-gown-clad classmates. Her family was presented with an engraved class ring.

10 PHOTOS
Michelle Obama, First Lady workout, 'Lets Move'
See Gallery
First lady notes personal struggles in Chicago graduation
US First Lady Michelle Obama kicks off the South Lawn Series by exercising with local school children at the White House to promote physical activity and engage children from the DC community in support of her Let�s Move campaign on May 25, 2010 in Washington. AFP PHOTO / Tim Sloan (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 25: First Lady Michelle Obama dances in a Zumba class during a visit to the Gwen Cherry Park NFL/YET Center on February 25, 2014 in Miami, Florida. The visit was part of a celebration around the fourth anniversary of Lets Move!, her initiative to ensure that all our children grow up healthy and reach their full potential. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 06: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama does jumping jacks while exercising with schoolchildren at Orr Elementary School as part of a ''Let's Move! Active Schools'' event September 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama was joined by Shaquille O'Neal, and Dominique Dawes while announcing a new commitment around the program that aims to more physical activity into schools before, during, and after the school day. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 25: First Lady Michelle Obama (R) dances in a Zumba class along with children and actor Mario Lopez (C) during a visit to the Gwen Cherry Park NFL/YET Center on February 25, 2014 in Miami, Florida. The visit was part of a celebration around the fourth anniversary of Lets Move!, her initiative to ensure that all our children grow up healthy and reach their full potential. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - MAY 14: First lady Michelle Obama speaks about her 'Let's Move' campaign to get kids active during the United States Olympic Committee Media Summit 2012 at Hilton Anatole on May 14, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images for USOC)
First Lady Michelle Obama (C) is surrounded by school children as she launches a challenge on the White House South Lawn to help break the Guiness World Records title for the most people doing jumping jacks in a 24-hour period during a 'Let's Move!' event in Washington, DC, October 11, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 11: First lady Michelle Obama is presented with a hockey jersey by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (R) and USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean (L) during an event on the south lawn of the White House on March 11, 2011 in Washington, DC. The first lady hosted a street hockey workout and clinic with the NHL champion Chicago Blackhawks as a part of the Let's Move! initiative. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (C) kicks-off the South Lawn Series by exercising with local school children at the White House to promote physical activity and engage children from the DC community in support of her Let�s Move campaign on May 25, 2010 in Washington. AFP PHOTO / Tim Sloan (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (l) kicks off the South Lawn Series by exercising with local school children at the White House to promote physical activity and engage children from the DC community in support of her Let�s Move campaign on May 25, 2010 in Washington. AFP PHOTO / Tim Sloan (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama kicks off the South Lawn Series by exercising with local school children at the White House to promote physical activity and engage children from the DC community in support of her Let�s Move campaign on May 25, 2010 in Washington. AFP PHOTO / Tim Sloan (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"Hadiya's memory is truly a blessing and an inspiration to me and my husband, and to people across this country and around the world," Obama, dressed in a graduation gown, told the crowd. She went on to say, "I know that many of you are thinking about Hadiya right now and feeling the hole that she's left in your hearts."

The first lady, who attended Pendleton's 2013 funeral, told students she understood the issues they faced because she experienced some firsthand growing up in the nation's third-largest city.

"I was born and raised here on the South Side - in South Shore - and I am who I am today because of this community," Obama said. "I know the struggles many of you face: how you walk the long way home to avoid the gangs; how you fight to concentrate on your homework when there's too much noise at home; how you keep it together when your family's having a hard time making ends meet."

She said the South Side students were tasked with the responsibilities of changing "skewed" narratives about their communities, and would encounter people along the way who would doubt them. She said students could change things by what they say, do and how they carry themselves.

"That's a burden that President Obama and I proudly carry every single day in the White House, because we know that everything we do and say can either confirm the myths about folks like us - or it can change those myths," she said.

The commencement speech before roughly 2,500 people at Chicago State University was among three the first lady has recently given. She spoke last month at Tuskegee University in Alabama and Oberlin College in Ohio.

King was chosen from about 200 schools that submitted videos after a challenge issued by the first lady last fall. Schools had to show commitment to college mentoring and financial aid help. King's video featured a spoof on the ABC program "Scandal." The show's cast members sent a surprise video back acknowledging the school's win, which was played to the crowd and met with cheers.

The first lady also advised students to ask for help, something she learned while a Princeton University student in the 1980s when she felt "totally overwhelmed and out of place."

"If Hadiya's friends and family could survive the heartbreak and pain; if they could found organizations to honor her unfulfilled dreams; if they could inspire folks across this country to wear orange in protest to gun violence," she said, "then I know you all can live your life with the same determination and joy that Hadiya lived her life. I know you all can dig deep and keep on fighting to fulfill your own dreams."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.