UC Merced

Anticipation peaks for Michelle Obama's appearance at UC Merced

UC Merced getting ready for todays graduation and first lady Michelle Obama.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG UC Merced getting ready for todays graduation and first lady Michelle Obama. Merced Sun-Star

Thousands of clean white chairs sat empty Friday afternoon as UC Merced students, faculty and staff practiced a dry run of this afternoon's commencement ceremony.

TV trucks formed a line up the hill on Scholars Lane.

Just as student speaker Jason Castillo stepped to the mic to deliver his address, the sound was cut. His speech's contents remain secret one more day.

The other speaker for today's ceremony, first lady Michelle Obama, was, of course, not present.

Still, the small clusters of students on campus were eager to share what they hoped the first lady would say to the four-year-old campus' first full four-year graduating class.

"I hope she says what is significant about the school," said Robin Binaoro. "Why she came here."

The 21-year-old senior from Alameda invited 12 family members to today's ceremony.

He said the first lady's focus should be on education, and if about the economy -- one of the worst graduating students have faced in years -- her remarks should focus on the Central Valley in particular.

Some students were more ambivalent.

"I never even thought about that," said Timothy Chung, when asked what he hoped the first lady might say.

"I'm going to assume she will talk about how this school will have a big impact on California and this country," Chung said.

Like many students on campus, Chung, a South Pasadena native, worried that the first lady's attendance had taken the emphasis from the graduating class.

Another senior, Jackie Shay, hoped the first lady showed special attention to the area.

"I hope she talks about this community and the San Joaquin Valley generally," Shay said. "I think the community really needs that uplifting aspect, to feel that they're important. This community is an asset."

Carolina Valero, of Dinuba, agreed. This event can raise the profile of the Valley to the whole country, she said. The first lady's presence could bring attention to other issues, such as water scarcity, poverty access to health care.

Angelica Miguel, a 22-year-old psychology major from Fresno, said she hoped the first lady focused on educational achievement.

"Especially because the UC here gave a lot of students from the Central Valley the opportunity to come," she said. "That is what this school is about."

The details and full text of Obama's prepared remarks haven't yet been released, but she's expected to talk about service, according to a report in The Sacramento Bee on Friday. Spokeswoman Katie McCormick Lelyveld told The Bee that Obama enjoys "speaking to people a lot like she was when she was younger and urging them to get out in the community and reach for their dreams.

"She benefited a great deal from the people who supported her in her life, and she wants to do the same thing, reach back and pull up the people behind you."

President Barack Obama's address to the 9,000 graduating students at Arizona State University earlier this week focused on perseverance and the singular individual's ability to change the world.

The first lady is scheduled for one other commencement address this graduation season at Washington Math and Science Technical High School on June 3.

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com