First Lady Michelle Obama Speaks at West Point Graduation Banquet

Lieutenant General Huntoon:
Public service. A focus on values
based leadership. That’s the ethos of Mrs. Obama
and that is also our calling and we are so pleased to welcome
you to the United States Military Academy. Ladies and gentleman, please
join me in a warm West Point welcome for the First
Lady of the United States, Mrs. Michelle Obama. (applause) First Lady Michelle Obama:
Thank you. Thank you so much. Hello everyone. Thank you for this
wonderful welcome. I want to thank General
Huntoon for that very kind introduction. I also want to thank Secretary McHugh,
the Class of 1961 bar presenters, all of our distinguished
guests, and all of the parents, families, friends who
are joining us tonight. And of course, I want to say
thank you for inviting me here to the United States
Military Academy. It’s breathe taking. This is my first
visit to West Point. It will not be my last. (applause) And I am truly humbled to speak
to you tonight on an evening that is so special for all
of you, for this Academy, for your families,
for this country. As I look around at the
cadets in this room — very, very good looking
group by the way — (laughter) It is very clear to me that you
all reflect everything we hope to see in ourselves
and our country — firmness of character
and strength of heart, a strong body and
a ferocious mind, a devotion to country
and to family. And I know that this weekend
is the product of 47 months of extraordinary effort and
endurance from R-Day to your last exam during TEE-week. For all of you, I know this has
been a magnificent journey, a journey full of academic
and athletic victories, a journey that has taken
you across the country and around the world. You’ve learned new skills
and immersed yourselves in new cultures, which will serve you
well on today’s battlefields. You’ve also created a Bionic
Foot, an Exoskeleton, and other robotics and cyber
defense projects that will help troops in the field. In the area of sports, your
football team had its first winning season in 14 years and its
first bowl victory in 25 years. (applause) Your women’s rugby team just
brought home the national championship last weekend. (applause) And General Huntoon shared with
me that most of the young women on that team never played rugby
before coming to West Point. Amazaing. And with your help, West Point
earned its first victory in the Sandhurst Competition
in 18 years. (applause) But along with all
of your successes, your journey has also
been filled with plenty of challenges. You learned that crawling
face-first through the mud and enduring a long, cold winter
are not just metaphors. You’ve learned just how little
sleep you need to survive and how much coffee you can
stomach to stay awake. (laughter) You’ve crammed facts into your
brain until you thought it would burst — and then you
crammed in even more. That’s the beauty of West Point. It’s a place where you learn
that your greatest achievements will never come easily, and they
will never be achieved alone. You learn that duty, honor, and
country are not simply words, but guideposts. They dictate what you ought
to be, what you can be, what you will be. And you learn that there are
times when we must stand up to defend our way of life, when we
must live out your class motto, “For Freedom We Fight.” We live in such times today. You knew this from the
moment you signed up. You knew that coming to this
Academy meant that you would likely be placed in dangerous
situations on unknown soil. Yet you came anyway. You have seen cadets from the
classes ahead of you pack their bags for Afghanistan or Iraq,
and many of you have already served there yourselves. You hear updates not only
from headlines and newsfeeds, but from emails and cell
phone calls from friends. And yes, you’ve visited
wounded friends, you’ve heard the bugle’s call
each time a graduate of this academy has fallen in our wars. Yet you stayed anyway. Each of you has taken a journey
here that is uniquely your own, but follows in the great
tradition of West Point. And tonight, you are on the cusp
of taking your rightful place in that long, gray line. Now, this journey is a testament
not just to you as individuals, but also to the families
that surround you, because your journey began
long before you got that first military haircut and
put on white-over-grey. Without your families, you never
would have had the strength to tackle Beast Barracks while your
peers back home were enjoying a final, carefree summer before college. Your families were the ones you
called for a shoulder to lean on or a kick in the pants. They’ve been there for you for
every moment of triumph and every moment of challenge. Their unending love and support
provide the very foundation that allows you to
stand strong today. And that’s what I really want
to talk with you about tonight. I want to talk about what family
can and will mean for you as leaders of our Army
and of our nation. Now, I grew up probably
like many of you did. My family lived on the South
Side of Chicago on the top floor of a two-family home. We didn’t have much money,
but we had more than enough of what mattered. We had the unwavering love
and support of family. We had a community
that looked after us. And we had parents who showed
us by example that if we worked hard enough, if we kept
ourselves grounded and held fast to certain core values, then
we could be anything that we dreamed of. My dad was diagnosed with MS
when he was in his early 30s. He was an athlete, and as he grew
older, he grew weaker and sicker. But I remember how he still got
up and went to work every day. I remember how he’d drag himself
out to play in the park with me and my brother. And he was a role model
to our entire community. Just by being himself, he showed
me what it means to be a parent, a citizen, and a leader. And I know that each of you
has your own family stories that shape you. Cadet Russ Burgin was
inspired by his father, too. He saw how his dad went through
chemo and radiation treatments, but never complained, never
felt sorry for himself, and continued to work full-time
to provide for his family. Today, fortunately his dad is cancer
free, and Cadet Burgin is here at West Point, the best place he could
imagine to live out the values that his father
demonstrated every day. Then we have Cadet Woo Do, who
is a first-generation American. Growing up, he’d accompany his
grandfather on doctor visits as a translator, and that’s how
he developed his passion for medicine — a passion that
will take him to Harvard Medical School next year. And so many of you come
from military backgrounds, like Cadets Christina
Veney and Megan Snook, who each have multiple family
members that graduated from this Academy. And Cadet Erin Anthony can trace
her family’s military history to the 1600s. But Cadets, no matter
how you’ve grown up, no matter how you define family,
all of you have someone in your life who believed in
you and pushed you. You had someone who taught you
the values and lessons that will sustain you when times get
tough or you’re unsure of what’s ahead. Some of those people are
here with you tonight. So, to the parents: I can only
imagine the joy you’ll feel tomorrow when you see your sons
and daughters in their officer’s uniforms for the first time. I can only imagine the pride
that comes from knowing that your kids are the kind of kids
that everyone dreams of raising. But as a parent, I can also
imagine what else might be on your mind tonight. You all read the news. You all understand what your
children have signed up for. You know what their
next assignment is, and in the back of your mind,
you’re wondering where the assignments after
that will take them. Those concerns are only natural. But it is a testament
to your strength, your patriotism and your
unconditional love that you have proudly supported these
cadets every step of the way. And cadets, I want you to know
that these people will always be there for you. As I’ve seen in my own life and
heard from troops all across this world, your family
will be your rock, whether you’re right next
to them or across an ocean. And soon, many of you will be
building families of your own. Very soon, for some of you. I hear that, in addition to all
the graduation preparations, many of you are planning
weddings as well and some honeymoons. So congratulations to all of you
as you prepare for the big day. And no matter where
your career takes you, know that your families will
be there right alongside you. Because our force is
a force of families. That’s become more clear
even in just a generation. During Vietnam, most of our
troops were young single men. And most of those who were
married had spouses who stayed at home. But today, more than half of
our servicemembers are married, 40% have two or more kids,
and most military spouses are employed outside the home. That’s what today’s military
families look like. They’re military spouses
who pursue a career, raise their kids alone,
and still find time for night school. They’re children who
move from town to town, constantly adjusting to new
schools and making new friends. They’re Blue Star moms who wake
up every morning and pray and pray that their child
comes home safely. They’re Gold Star families who
honor the memory of their loved ones while channeling their
strength into serving others. And graduates, this is why
your role is so important. Soon, you’ll be serving
not just for yourselves, and not just for
your own families, but for these families. You’ll be helping your troops
deal with the joy of a new birth and the disappointment of not
being in the delivery room. You’ll be helping a Soldier cope
with a family emergency halfway around the world. And you’ll see again and again
that those family relationships are just as important to a
soldier’s success as anything that you can provide
them in the field. And just as our troops need
your leadership and support, their families do too, because
they sacrifice and serve this nation right alongside
anyone who wears our uniform. But America doesn’t
always see that. They can thank our troops in
airports or at the grocery store because they’re wearing
fatigues we can see them. But military families don’t
wear any kind of uniform. They just blend in. And because only 1% of our
country serves in the Armed Forces, a lot of Americans
simply don’t know many — if any — military families. They aren’t familiar with the
resilience it takes to get through a long deployment. They have no idea the courage
it takes simply to turn on the evening news. They don’t fully realize the
strength you need to move your family for the fourth or fifth
or sixth time in a decade. But even though people may not
always know exactly what you’re going through or
exactly how to help, I can assure you that
they do want to help. Admiral Mullen, who will be
speaking to you tomorrow, he calls it the Sea of Goodwill. And believe me, I have seen
that sea with my own eyes across the country. That’s why I’m working with Dr.
Jill Biden to channel that Sea of Goodwill through an effort
we are calling Joining Forces. Nationwide campaign calling
on all Americans to recognize, honor, and support
our military families — not just with words,
but with deeds. We want your families to feel
these efforts on the ground, in your daily lives. So we’re working across sectors,
asking everyone from government and business to faith
communities and school districts to make a commitment to
you and your families. Already, people
across this country — including many of our largest
corporations and nonforprofits — have stepped up with real,
tangible commitments. And let me tell you, when I
meet a Member of Congress or a powerful CEO and
ask for their help, I have been blown away
by their enthusiasm. They all want to help. They’re all excited to do it. And we haven’t heard one
single person tell us no. So graduates, I want you to
know that while this country is asking so much of you once
you pin on those gold bars, we’re not asking
you to do it alone. You have your families that are
with you today and every day. You have the many friends and
family members outside these walls, the ones watching
all around the Academy, and all of those who support you
in your hometowns and across this country. And you have millions of folks
who you don’t even know, and who you will never
meet, who have your back. From my husband right on down
through the ranks of this military, from those powerful
CEOs to all of the teachers, clergy, and neighbors that you
deal with every single day. We all want to give something
back to you and your families because we are inspired by you. We’re inspired by the character
reflected in your acceptance to this Academy, and by the courage
to serve during a time of war. We’re inspired by how,
over these past 47 months, you have become not
simply warriors and not simply scholars. You have become leaders. You have come to embody
duty, honor, country, just like all those
who came before you. Thayer. Grant. Eisenhower. Schwartzkopf. Those values stretch through
generations and across this nation, powering
astronauts and engineers, senators and statesmen, business
leaders and five-star generals. But tonight, I’d actually like
to end with the story of someone who lived long before
your motto was adopted. It’s someone who was
never a West Point Cadet, but I think that’s okay,
since this building is named after him. In the summer of 1775, we were
barely two months removed from Paul Revere’s ride and the
shot heard round the world. And the Second Continental
Congress was meeting in Philadelphia to take
control of the war effort. They decided to put the
Continental Army under George Washington’s command, and he was
to leave for Boston immediately. And the night before he was
officially commissioned as Commander-in-Chief, before he
left to lead thousands of men, before he began to chart the
course of freedom for our country and our world,
Washington sat down to draft a letter to his wife, Martha. In it, he writes not of battle
plans or great pride and personal achievement. He writes with, in his words,
“inexpressible concern” because he’s thinking about his wife. He’s thinking about her being
at home, alone, on their farm. So he asks her to be strong, and
he says he hopes that the time will pass as easily as possible,
because, as he writes, “Nothing will give me so much
sincere satisfaction as to hear this, and to hear it
from your own Pen.” Well, today’s soldiers may
write emails rather than “penning” letters. They may be able to video chat
with their kids at bedtime. But that abiding love, that
passionate devotion to family — that is what has sustained so
many on battlefields here in America and around the world
since the very beginning of this nation. Your families — the ones here
tonight and the ones you will build someday — will always
be at the forefront of your hearts and minds. And the only thing that will
give you and your troops that “sincere satisfaction” that
General Washington spoke of is knowing that they are safe. So, alongside everything else
you have learned and experienced here at the United
States Military Academy, the calculus and the Shakespeare,
the intramurals and leadership training, I ask you to remember
that family has always been a centerpiece of our
American story; our story. I want you to remember that this
country and all of its citizens stand ready to serve
you and your families. And I want you to remember that
as long as we all do our duty, as long as we all
serve with honor, then the fate of this country
will never be in doubt. So again, congratulations to all of you. We are all so very proud of you. May God bless you and your
families on the journey ahead and may God bless the
United States of America. Thank you. (applause)

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