Rhia Hardman, whose father and stepmother were both crack addicts, had to survive sometimes as a child without water or electricity. And Rashema Melson, whose family has been homeless for years, experienced times when she didn't have clean clothes to wear to school.
But today, Rhia is a graduate with honors from Virginia State University. And Rashema, who just graduated as the valedictorian of her class, is attending Georgetown University this fall on a full scholarship.
And as the First Lady said at last night's DC College Access Program graduation celebration, Rhia and Rashema aren't the only ones with similar stories of struggle and success.
"So many of you have stories just like these," Mrs. Obama told the graduates. "Stories of families who couldn’t support you, of communities where you weren’t safe, schools that maybe didn’t always live up to your promise. But ultimately, despite it all, you chose to succeed."
This perseverance, she noted, was what connected all of the DC-CAP graduates -- their mindset, their "fierce belief" in their potential, and their "unwavering conviction" that they deserve better from life.
Mrs. Obama also explained to the graduates that they are role models for young people across America, saying that if they "can graduate from college despite such overwhelming odds, then there is no reason why every child in this country can't follow in your footsteps."
The First Lady assured the graduates that they are "going to be just fine" in their next endeavors, reminding them that life is "an endless process of struggle and success," and that the struggle will make them "stronger and smarter and more resilient."
The final lesson she shared with the graduates was the importance of investing in themselves, regardless of what's happening in their lives:
You see, back when I was getting my education and starting my career, my parents were no strangers to struggle. They were facing health challenges and any number of other problems. But here is the thing -- no matter what was happening at home, whenever I called to see how my parents were doing, I always got the same answer: Everything is fine, baby, just take care of yourself.
You see, my parents couldn’t offer me a lot in the way of tangible support. They couldn’t give me advice about what classes to take or what jobs to apply for. They didn’t have networks. But what they could do was keep me from getting sucked into their problems. They knew -- amen, and I want the families to hear this as well. They knew that I had enough stress in my life on my own, and they were determined not to add any more stress from their lives. And because my parents gave me the space I needed to succeed, I was able to focus on getting good grades and a good job and earning some money. And before long, I was able to start helping my parents out. And today, my mother never has to worry about money again because my brother and I can afford to take care of her for the rest of our lives.
"I want you all to know that I’m going to be fighting for you, and I am rooting for you and kids like you across this country," the First Lady noted. "I will be doing this work not just for the rest of my time as First Lady, but for the rest of my life. Because, graduates, I believe in you. I really do. I’m so proud of you. I am inspired by you. And I can’t wait to see what you all achieve in the years ahead. So go out there and do some great things."
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