First Lady Michelle Obama speaks to members of the class of 2016 in her final commencement speech as first lady, Friday June 3, 2016, during commencement at CCNY in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) (AP)

Michelle Obama takes a swing at Trump during final commencement address as first lady: He "is not what this country stands for"

"Leaders who demonize and dehumanize entire groups of people often do so because they have nothing else to offer"

Sophia Tesfaye
June 3, 2016 11:49PM (UTC)

Michelle Obama kept up her tradition of delivering graduation speeches that tackle America's struggle with discrimination, using her final commencement address as first lady to warn against Donald Trump and his campaign of intolerance.

While the first lady did not mention Trump by name during her speech to the graduates of City College in New York Friday, she delivered some thinly veiled shots at the controversial businessman who has taken his campaign of Birtherism so far he's now attempting to succeed her husband after working tirelessly to delegitimize him for years.


“All of you know for centuries this city has been the gateway to America for so many striving, hope-filled immigrants,” Obama remarked to the students at one of New York's oldest public institutions, adding that the school has long been a place where students "didn’t have to hide their last names or their accents”

The story of the United States, the first lady reminded the graduates, striking a stark contrast between Trump's vision of a scared and insular nation, is one of "the son of Polish immigrants named Jonas Salk who toiled for years in a lab until he discovered a vaccine that saved countless lives. It’s the story of the son of Jamaican immigrants named Colin Powell who became a four-star general, secretary of state, and a role model for young people across the country."

“It’s the story that I witness every single day,” the first lady said, “when I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters — two beautiful black young women —  head off to school, waving goodbye to their father, the president of the United States.”


Waning the students to be leery of leaders who promise to "build up walls to keep people out," the first lady took a more pointed turn to Trump.

"They seem to view our diversity as a threat to be contained rather than as a resource to be tapped," Obama said. "They tell us to be afraid of those who are different, to be suspicious of those with whom we disagree. They act as if name-calling is an acceptable substitute for thoughtful debate. As if anger and intolerance should be our default state rather than optimism and openness that have always been the engine of our progress":

And I have seen what happens when ideas like these take hold. I have seen how leaders rule by intimidation, leaders who demonize and dehumanize entire groups of people often do so because they have nothing else to offer. And I have seen how places that stifle the voices and dismiss the potential of their citizens are diminished, how they are less vital, less hopeful, less free.

"Graduates, that is not who we are. That is not what this country stands for," Obama continued, before alluding to Trump's Make America Great Again slogan. "No, no, here in America, we don’t let our differences tear us apart. Not here. Because we know that our greatness comes from when we appreciate each other’s strengths, when we learn from each other, when we lean on each other, because in this country, it’s never been each person for themselves, no we’re all in this together. We always have been."


"No, uh-uh," she said.

"Our greatness has always come from people who expect nothing and take nothing for granted, folks who work hard for what they have and then reach back and help others after them. That is your story, graduates, and that is the story of your families. And it’s the story of my family, too”:


And graduates, it’s the story that I witness every single day when I wake up in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful black young women head off to school waving goodbye to their father, the president of the United States, the son of a man from Kenya who came here to America for the same reasons as many of you: to get an education and improve his prospects in life


Their legacy is very much your legacy. And your inheritance. And don’t let anybody tell you differently. You are the living, breathing proof that the American dream endures in our time. It’s you.


Watch a portion of the first lady's final commencement speech, via Politico:

And the full speech below:

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

MORE FROM Sophia TesfayeFOLLOW @SophiaTesfaye

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