Here are Michelle Obama's Powerful Words About Her Life on the South Side of Chicago

June 10th 2015

Laura Donovan

First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a touching commencement address at Chicago South Side high school King College Prep, where 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton was a student when she was shot and killed in 2013. Pendleton's death was particularly poignant because she had performed at President Obama's inauguration a week before her death.

“If Hadiya’s friends and family could survive their heartbreak and pain, if they could found organizations to honor her unfulfilled dreams, if they could inspire folks across this country to wear orange to protest gun violence, then I know you all can live your life with the same determination and joy that Hadiya lived her life,” the First Lady told graduates. “I know you all can dig deep and keep on fighting to fulfill your own dreams.”

Chicago's South Side is weary from years of escalated gun violence. After a drop in shootings last year, the city's homicide rate is up 18 percent so far in 2015. Memorial Day weekend alone had 10 homicides and more than 40 shootings.

Michelle Obama, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reiterated to the students that she understands their roots. The First Lady spoke at King Prep as part of her Reach Higher initiative, which aims to help low-income students pursue education beyond high school.

"I am who I am today because of this community," she 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. But more importantly, I also know the strengths of this community. ... Most families here are tight, bound together by the kind of love that gets stronger when it’s tested."

Michelle Obama said she's familiar with the challenges many of the graduates endure, but that she also knows they're strong enough to survive hardship.

"With every word you speak, with every choice you make, and with the way you carry yourself each day, you can write a new story about our communities," she said. "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 ... Starting today, it is your job to make sure that no one is ever again surprised by who we are and where we come from."