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Michelle Obama's Emotional Farewell: 'The Power Of Hope' Has 'Allowed Us To Rise'

Michelle Obama delivers her final remarks as first lady during a Jan. 6 ceremony at the White House honoring the 2017 School Counselor of the Year.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Michelle Obama delivers her final remarks as first lady during a Jan. 6 ceremony at the White House honoring the 2017 School Counselor of the Year.

Michelle Obama used her last official White House speech to deliver a passionate pep talk to the nation's young people, especially immigrants, Muslims and others who might feel slighted by the incoming Trump administration.

"Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don't matter," the first lady said, "or like you don't have a place in our American story, because you do."

Obama spoke at a celebration of school counselors from around the country. The annual event is one of a number of steps along with "college signing day" that Obama and her husband have taken to encourage students to pursue higher education.

"Because let's be honest," the first lady said. "If we're always shining the spotlight on professional athletes or recording artists or Hollywood celebrities, if those are the only achievements we celebrate, then why would we ever think kids would see college as a priority?"

A graduate of Harvard Law School like her husband, Michelle Obama stressed that to preserve and protect their freedoms, young people should get a good education, so they can be active and productive citizens. She added young people should not lose hope, even when they encounter the inevitable obstacles.

"It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and the life of this country," Obama said. "Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us."

At times, others have tried to place limits on Michelle Obama herself. In a TV interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, Obama described her surprise at being tagged during her husband's first White House campaign as an "angry black woman."

"Wow, where did that come from?" Obama told Winfrey. "I thought, 'Let me live my life out loud so that people can then see and then judge for themselves.' "

After eight years in the White House, the first lady has won a favorable judgment from most Americans. She enjoys higher favorability ratings than her husband does.

On Friday, she encouraged young people to be focused and determined, not afraid.

"When people see us for who we truly are, maybe, just maybe they, too, will be inspired to rise to their best possible selves," Obama said.

With her voice breaking, Obama recalled how her own father worked hard at a city water plant, hoping that one day his children would go to college and have opportunities he never dreamed of.

"That's the kind of hope that every single one of us — politicians, parents, preachers, all of us — need to be providing for our young people," Obama said. "Because that is what moves this country forward every single day. Our hope for the future and the hard work that hope inspires."

"That's my final message to young people as first lady," she said as the audience in the White House East Room stood and applauded. "Lead by example with hope, never fear. And know that I will be with you, rooting for you and working to support you for the rest of my life."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.