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First Lady Michelle Obama delivered Commencement Address to UAPB

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement address to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) graduating class on May, 8th 2010 at the Pine Bluff Convention Center to a packed house and enraptured audience.

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First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement address to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) graduating class on May, 8th 2010 at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. The Convention Center was filled with thousands of students, family members, politicians and community members.

The First Lady made sure the spotlight remained on the 270 graduates. Mrs. Obama reminded the graduates of the legacy and encouraged the Class of 2010 to follow in the footsteps of the university’s pioneers who came before them.

Mrs. Obama mentioned the fact that when the university opened in 1873, it was "just a decade past slavery." Several times during the speech, she referenced UAPB’s first class of seven students, most of whom could barely read. Mrs. Obama went on to say, "There was no guarantee of opportunity when they graduated. 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."

She stated that, “It’s only by embracing, rather than shrinking from challenges, it’s only by setting and striving for our own ambitious bars that we become what we are truly meant to be.” Mrs. Obama said, “Overcoming difficult times in life is often necessary to achieve ambitious goals,” then cited the examples of Martin Luther King Jr., transplant surgeon and UAPB graduate Dr. Samuel L. Kountz and her husband, President Barack Obama.

Later in her speech Mrs. Obama listed the university's achievements, which included the Vesper Choir playing at the Vatican, the ROTC program graduating a student who became a U.S. Army General, and its Golden Lions making the NCAA men's basketball tournament that year. She also highlighted Martin Luther King Jr.’s commencement speech at the university which contained phrases he later used in his "I Have a Dream" speech. She quoted his refrain, "Free at last, free at last," as the audience loudly applauded. Just as King's Arkansas speech came a year after the Little Rock Nine integrated the all-white Little Rock Central High School, Mrs. Obama's speech came more than a year after the university's 260-piece marching band took part in the inaugural parade for her husband, the nation's first black president, Mr. Barack Obama.

Mrs. Obama wrapped up her speech by telling the graduates, “I wish for you a life lived not in response to the doubts or fears or desires of others, but in pursuit of passions, hopes and dreams that are your very own. And whenever you get discouraged - and you will, when you start to lose heart and you want to give up - and you will, I want you to think about all those who came before you.” She also wished that they would encounter every blessing along their road to success. She ended her speech to thunderous applause.

When asked about Mrs. Obama’s speech, Chancellor Davis said, “No other individual could have added as much to UAPB’s legacy as the First Lady, Mrs. Michelle Obama. I am proud to have been a participant in that May ceremony. Her message was that as role models she and President Obama exemplify that one can become whatever one aspires to and is willing to sacrifice to achieve.”


Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard

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