More advice for ’09

Michelle Obama ’85 talks about Sonia Sotomayor ’76

First Lady Michelle Obama ’85 delivered the commencement address at the Washington Math and Science Tech Public Charter High School June 3. Her remarks to the graduates included memories of her time at Princeton and a few comments about fellow Princeton alumna Sonia Sotomayor ’76, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. An excerpt from the speech, released by the Office of the First Lady, is included below.

First Lady Michelle Obama ’85 at the Washington Math and Science Tech Public Charter High School

… [W]hen I look out at you all, I get tears in my eyes because I think about sitting in your seats just a few years ago in my cap and gown. Whitney Young was a magnet public school, so I was a public school graduate, as well. And I was excited like you were because I had gotten into Princeton University. I was excited! I was fired up. I didn’t get the kind of money you all got — but I was excited.

But I was also worried. I was worried about whether or not I was ready, whether or not I would fit in. And I have realized since then that I probably wasn’t alone in my fears, in my worries.

And then I read this story of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. I don’t know if you know about this phenomenal woman, but the President — she’s the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court — and she’s the first Hispanic woman to be considered for the position. The first.

And she went to Princeton. And in this story she said that when she arrived at Princeton as a freshman — and this was nine years before I would even think about going — she said when she stepped on that campus, she said — and this is a quote — she said she felt like “a visitor landing in an alien country.” And she said she never raised her hand her first year because — and this is a quote — she “was too embarrassed and too intimidated to ask questions.”

So despite all of her success at Princeton — and then she went on to Yale Law School where she was at the top of her class, in both schools — and despite all of her professional accomplishments, Judge Sotomayor says she still looks over her shoulder and wonders if she measures up.

And when I read her story, I understood exactly how she feels. And I understood what it must have been like for her to step on that campus despite these nagging voices that sometimes rumble around in your head. And for me, the voices came from people who at first told me, don’t bother applying to Princeton, not a school like that — because they said I’d never get in.

Then when I got in, they told me not to go because I wouldn’t be able to compete against students who would be more prepared. And then when I decided to attend, they told me that I shouldn’t go to a school so far away from home because I would have a hard time making friends; I would feel out of place and I wouldn’t make it through. Voices of people sowing seeds of doubt in my head.

And now that I look back, I realize that despite my confident exterior — because all you all have it, right; you’re confident, and I was, too — there was a part of me that started to believe the doubters. I started to believe people. They were getting into my head. There was a part of me that began to doubt my own abilities and to ignore my own truth; what I knew to be true about me.

So, graduates, for those of you who may be doubting and questioning yourselves — maybe — now, you all may not be — you may be just ready to roll — but if you are, trust me, I know how you feel. There are a lot of us who know how you feel.

Read the complete address at whitehouse.gov.

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