Audio: Michelle Obama Tells MLK Grads ‘Put Yourself In A Position Where You Might Fail’

First Lady Michelle Obama yells "go Royals" as she begins her speech to MLK's graduating seniors on Saturday. Credit: White House

First Lady Michelle Obama yells “go Royals” as she begins her speech to MLK’s graduating seniors on Saturday. Credit: White House

In her only high school graduation commencement speech this year, First Lady Michelle Obama told graduating seniors at Nashville’s Martin Luther King Jr. High School that they were lucky to attend such a good school.

Mrs. Obama says she went to a school in Chicago much like MLK, which has academic entrance requirements and is nationally ranked. Everyone in the class of 2013 is going on to college or the military.

“Unfortunately schools don’t exist like this for every kid,” she said. “You are blessed.”

The First Lady told the crowd of more than 3,500 in Tennessee State University’s Gentry Center she hadn’t really experienced failure until her freshman year at Princeton University, where she made her first C in Greek mythology.

“So often failure is the key to success for so many great people. Take Steve Jobs who was fired from Apple early in his career. Now his iPods and iPads and iPhones have revolutionized the entire world. Oprah was demoted from her first job as a news anchor. Now she doesn’t even need a last name. And then there’s this guy Barack Obama who lost – I could take up a whole afternoon talking about his failures – but he lost his first race for congress, and now he gets to call himself my husband.”

Hear the full 22 minute speech:

Students Identify With First Lady’s Story

MLK graduates say it will take a while to sink in that the First Lady spoke at their graduation. Several say they were impressed by her intellect and her personal touch. She handed out the diplomas and gave most students a hug.

“I didn’t know she was going to give us our diploma and hug us,” Brianna Nelson says. “I thought we’d just see her up there.”

Mrs. Obama encouraged the graduates to build a support network when they go off to school, relaying her experience at Princeton feeling out of place, sitting in class with the wealthy elite.

“Like, my parents aren’t that rich,” says Princess Nwoke, who has a full scholarship to Vanderbilt University. “I don’t know what Vanderbilt holds, but I will definitely take her advice and try to find a community.


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