First Lady Michelle Obama issues a leadership challenge to graduating class at Spelman College — 'claim your inheritance'
Earlier today, HOPE Board Member Dr. Bernice King (daughter of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr and Mrs. Coretta Scott King) and close friends joined me at the Spelman College graduation ceremony here in my home town of Atlanta, Georgia, where First Lady Michelle Obama was the special Commencement speaker.
It goes without saying that the First Lady was inspiring, and I was honored to spend a few moments alone with the First Lady discussing our work, and her work around community engagement and the empowerment of our youth; re-inspiring a generation. But none of this was the real point.
The real point made by the First Lady of the United States, and the first African-American First Lady in America's history, speaking to a sea of mostly African-American young ladies embarking upon their futures, I believe was that the gift of the education they have now received is not an entitlement, but an "inheritance." An inheritance that they must treat with the value and the treasure that it deserves.
To say this in my way,
I would say that they must see their life, from this point forward, to be a life on "reset."
A reset of their hopes, dreams, aspirations and desires.
A reset of their core resilience to life's disappointments and set-backs.
A reset of their inner-fears, their outer resentments, but most of all, a reset of a basic standard of excellence that they now hold themselves (and each other, as fellow graduates) to.
And yes, to never, ever give up. Ever.
The First Lady admitted that she herself has fears and disappointments, but that in these times she would quickly remember the challenges of her "sheroes," individuals such as my friend and Spelman alumni Mrs. Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund. Thinking of all that they went through and survived, she would simply shake it off, and then get on with it. No time for self pity. No time to play victim. No time for anything but movement. Movement, forward. There was an inheritance to both claim, and to pay forward. Time to move.
Finally, the First Lady reminded the new graduates first of the 11 women who helped to make Spelman College what it is today, and then reminded them, as they graduate and move on to become a leader in their chosen field of excellence, to "find 11 young girls that they could now embrace," and help them to find their path in this world too.
Or to quote Fred Smith from my book Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World, the First Lady challenged the Spelman graduates to become "ladder builders and not just ladder climbers." I hope they were listening.
As the 2006 recipient of the Spelman College National Community Service Award, I congratulate my friend Wendy Kopp, the 2011 National Community Service Awardee and the founder of Teach for America. Several of the Spelman graduates were going on to teach in classrooms for Teach for America across America.
Congratulations as well to sisters Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad, who both received Honorary Doctorate Degrees (and good to see my dear friend and NBA great Norm Nixon there, the beaming husband of Debbie Allen), and last but not least, congratulations to my friend Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College, and the chief visionary behind the growth and progress of the "new Spelman."
It was the visionary Dr. Tatum that first welcomed Operation HOPE and our new Banking on Our Future, College Edition on her campus. Now, Banking on Our Future, College Edition is on more than a dozen HBCU campuses across the nation, with several more planned for 2011.
The Bible says, "where there is no vision, the people perish." Today, Dr. Tatum and the Spelman family, inspired by First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, made that future vision clear as a bell, for 500 young African-American women who now have a chance to make history, with no barrier in sight.
Onward with HOPE
John Hope Bryant is founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama