Dear first lady Michelle Obama:
Welcome to Merced. On behalf of the entire community, we want to thank you for graciously accepting our invitation to speak at the commencement for the inaugural graduating class of 2009 at the University of California, Merced.
As you know, I grew up here and attended public schools through high school.
As a native Mercedian, I was thrilled that the new UC Merced campus opened four years ago. Today, Im thrilled beyond belief that you honor us by agreeing to give the commencement address for the 2009 UC Merced graduating class.
What makes this an amazing event is that we have had so many reasons to celebrate this year, and your words will inspire us to even higher levels. We recognize that 2009 is the year your husband and my friend, Barack Obama, became the first African-American president in the history of this country.
It was a great achievement with enormous amounts of effort from Americans across the country. We were not divided by ideological, race, age and gender differences. It is also the year we celebrated the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincolns birthday, one of President Obamas favorite presidents. In addition, we celebrated the 80th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a person who paved the way for all of us.
When I think about the progress we have made as a country, I am constantly reminded that Dr. King would have been 80 on Jan. 15, and that he has been dead longer than he lived. It is a reminder of how precious his 39 years of commitment were to this country, and yet how much we have continued to focus on his goals -- reducing the equality gap between the haves and have-nots.
I have no doubt that hes looking down from heaven smiling with great joy seeing Barack Obama, you, Malia and Sasha in the White House.
I know how important legacies are to you.
Indeed, the work you have done as a brilliant student at Princeton University and Harvard Law School, as a legal aid attorney for poor clients as part of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and as a lawyer in Chicago are just a few examples of how you have continued your parents legacy of struggle and progress.
They gave you and your brother Craig the room to learn and grow. You both have been blessed with enormous opportunities and have used them to make communities better and to open up avenues to success for those who follow you.
Merced is an amazing community. I remember in the early days having to adjust to the challenges of limited opportunity and wondering what would lie ahead. And yet I recall, through my interest in reading, my thirst for knowledge and my deep belief of the role God played in my life, I knew anything was possible as long as I remained faithful to my pursuit of higher goals. As I look back on Merced now, I do so with mixed emotions.
While it is wonderful that there is the great University of California, Merced, with its inspired student body graduating today, it is also sobering to see the level of suffering across this city, state and nation as a result of our sagging economy and declining employment opportunities.
If time permitted, I would have taken you to one of my favorite places growing up as a child the Merced County Fairgrounds. While I would regale you with stories of the wonderful carnival rides, cotton candy, and the sense of patriotism and camaraderie, it would be remiss of me to not share with you the troubling history of this same location being used during World War II to confine nearly 5,000 Japanese-American citizens after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.