First Lady Michelle Obama, who has made a point of speaking at the graduation ceremony of at least one historically black college or university each year since 2010, speaks to Jackson State University graduates on Saturday as part of her Reach Higher initiative.
JSU will be witnessing one of the last such speeches Obama will give before leaving the White House next January. And there is anticipation that her words will linger for years to come.
Other memorable figures from the White House who have addressed JSU include former President Bill Clinton and former secretaries of Education Rodney Page and Arne Duncan, said Alberta Yeboah, a social science professor at Jackson State.
Yet, Obama could have a much greater impact on the JSU community because she is both the world’s most popular and powerful woman right now, Yeboah said.
“Her position as the first African American First Lady … is going to have a phenomenal impact on Jackson State University,” Yeboah said.
For one, some 55,000 Mississippians are expected to attend JSU’s graduation to hear the First Lady’s remarks.
Patti Waid, a spokeswoman for University of California Merced, said Obama’s commencement address at that university in 2009 was an honor for the campus community to witness.
“Not only was it UC Merced’s commencement for our first full graduating class, it was Mrs. Obama’s first commencement address as First Lady,” Waid said. “At the time, our campus was only four years old, and the resulting national media coverage was a welcome side benefit in raising the visibility of the university.”
In her previous commencement speeches, Obama has used the opportunity to not only highlight stories about her upbringing and barriers she faced to succeed, but also used the platform to urge students to take on social causes such as economic inequality, human rights and criminal justice reform.
“I hope she shares with us her thoughts on how the city and state can be better,” Yeboah said. “There’s always room for improvement.”
Previous commencement addresses by the First Lady include: Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala., last year; Dillard University in New Orleans in 2014; Bowie State University in Bowie, Md., in 2013; North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro in 2012; Spelman College in Atlanta in 2011, and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 2010.
This spring, Obama will also speak at commencement ceremonies at Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe, N.M., and City College of New York in New York City.