First Lady Michelle Obama told the University of Northern Iowa’s 2011 spring graduates the state of Iowa has become a “part of her personal journey.”
Obama talked of campaigning around the state in 2007 and of once being so comfortable with the small crowd in a Sioux City backyard that she kicked off her shoes and walked in the grass.
“The more that I shared my story with all of you and you shared your stories with me, the more I realized that what truly connects us is our shared values,” Obama said. “In the end, there is so much more that unites us than divides us.”
Obama praised the graduates for their volunteer service and asked the entire crowd to “give something back” to America’s soldiers and military families. She also mentioned the Navy Seals who killed Osama bin Laden.
“I mean, just imagine: a small group of brave men, dropped by helicopter half a world away in the dead of night into unknown danger inside the lair of the most-wanted man in the world,” Obama said. “They did not hesitate, risking everything for us, for our freedom and security.”
Obama, who spoke for about 25 minutes, mentioned noteworthy U.N.I. graduates of the past and members of the class of 2011 who are already making a difference. She urged the students to follow their passions in life.
“Don’t ever count yourself out and if you ever do begin to doubt yourself, I want you to think of two words that showed this country that young people here at UNI have got what it takes,” Obama said. “Those two words are Ali Farokhamesh.”
That’s the name of the Panther basketball player who made the winning basket in U.N.I.’s stunning defeat of Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tournament.
Obama told the students their families would be the “core and compass” of their life. About 17,000 people gathered in the UNI-Dome for spring commencement exercises this morning. The Northern Iowa Symphony played “Fanfare for a First Lady” — a piece composed for the occasion by a U.N.I. music professor.
Listen to Obama’s speech: unicommecement
(Additional reporting by Jesse Gavin of KCNZ in Cedar Falls, Iowa)