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Influential Speakers Inspire 2011 Graduates to Pursue the American Dream

This spring, historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions are hosting a number of influential minority leaders, who are offering pearls of wisdom to the Class of 2011.

President Barack Obama spoke at Miami Dade College on April 29, offering inspirational words for the graduates:

“Class of 2011, you and your generation are now responsible for our future … you are going to be leaders for many years to come.” Obama said. Sharing anecdotes and childhood stories, Obama was able to connect with the students, allowing his own journey to be inspiring stepping-stones for the road that awaits them. “Pursue success,” he said.  “Do not falter. When you make it, pull somebody else up. Remember, your life is richer when people around you have a shot at opportunity as well.”

Obama’s appearance at MDC, with its largely Hispanic student body, has been seen as an attempt to strengthen his support among Hispanic voters prior to the 2012 presidential campaign.

Obama also is scheduled to provide commencement addresses at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Booker T. Washington High School, which won the White House Race to the Top Commencement Challenge.

First lady Michelle Obama spoke at the commencement of Spelman College, the Atlanta, all-women’s HBCU.

Recalling the history of the university, from its start in 1881 with only 11 students to its current graduating class of 550 students, Michelle Obama compared their growth in size to a growth in leadership for the future.

“No matter what obstacles you encounter, no matter what hardships you endure … you have a diploma that will take you places you’ve never even dreamed of,” she said.

Quoting novelist and Spelman alum Tina McElroy Ansa, the first lady said, “Claim what is yours … you belong anywhere on this earth you want to.”

While commending the graduate’s hard work, she also offered some words of advice and encouragement. “If you go out there and make that claim, if you reach back to help others do the same, then I am confident that you will lead lives worthy of your dreams, and you will fulfill that precious Spelman legacy that is now yours.”

Michelle Obama also is scheduled to speak at the University of Northern Iowa and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as well as Quantico Middle High School.

Other members of the Obama administration are participating in commencement festivities, offering their own words to the class of 2011. Valerie Jarrett and Eric Holder are among the Cabinet members to speak at various colleges and universities.

Selected University and College Commencement Schedule


April 29, 2011

President Barack Obama – Miami Dade College

April 30, 2011

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed – Florida A&M University

May 1, 2011

Bill Cosby, Actor – Lincoln University

May 3, 2011

New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker – Fisk University

Rev. Al Sharpton, Civil Rights Activist – Bethune-Cookman University

May 6, 2011

Danny Glover, Actor – Texas College

Ret. Gen. Colin Powell – South Carolina State University

May 7, 2011

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan –  Fayetteville State University

Ed Gordon, Host of BET’s “Weekly with Ed Gordon” – Jackson State University

Dr. John Maupin, President of Morehouse College School of Medicine – Claflin University

Anton Vincent, President of Baked Products Division, General Mills – Norfolk State University

Soledad O’Brien, Journalist – Dillard University

May 8, 2011

Tom Joyner, Radio Host – Tuskegee University

Winnie Mandela, former wife of South African President Nelson Mandela – Johnson C. Smith

Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron – Rollins College

May 13, 2011

Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement – UCLA School of Law

Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, President of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions – Waycross College

May 14, 2011

Dr. Johnetta B. Cole, Director of the National Museum of African Art at Smithsonian – University of the Virgin Islands

Fred M. Diaz, President and Chief Executive Officer Ram Truck Brand and Head of National Sales – Texas Lutheran University

Freeman Hrabowski III, President of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County – University of Mississippi

Roland Martin, CNN analyst – Le Moyne-Owen College

Marc H. Morial, CEO of National Urban League – Howard University

May 15, 2011

Donna Brazile, Journalist – Benedictine College

Toni Morrison, Author – Rutgers University

First Lady Michelle Obama – Spelman College

Denzel Washington, Actor – University of Pennsylvania

May 16, 2011

Susan Taylor, Editor-in-Chief emeritus of Essence magazine – Clark Atlanta University

May 18, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama – U.S. Coast Guard Academy

May 19, 2011

DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association – University of Maryland

May 21, 2011

Gwen Ifill, Anchor of PBS “Newshour” – Lafayette College

Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University – Morgan State University

May 22, 2011

Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General – University of Virginia School of Law

May 23, 2011

Dominique Dawes, Olympic gymnast, co-host of NPR “On the Radio” – West Virginia University

May 25, 2011

Jimmy Santiago Baca, Award-winning novelist, playwright and poet – Santa Fe Community College

May 26, 2011

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Harvard University

May 28, 2011

Regina M. Benjamin, U.S. Surgeon General and Vice Admiral – Renssaeler Polytechnic Institute

June 12, 2011

Mexican President Felipe Calderon – Stanford University

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