During a commencement address Michelle Obama gave on Sunday for George Washington University’s class of 2010, she focused on the value of international education and urged each student to go global. The First Lady recognized the contributions many of the GW graduates have made both locally and globally, challenged them to “[k]eep being you, to keep doing what you’re doing. Just take it global.”
She noted that a record number of George Washington University students have volunteered and applied to organizations like Teach for America and the Peace Corps, and that – for the second year running – GW has led the universities of its size in the number of undergraduate alumni serving in the Peace Corps.
When you serve others abroad, you’re serving our country, too. You’re showing the world the true face of America –- our generosity, our strength, the enduring power of our ideals, the infinite reservoir of our hope. And yes, serving abroad will make you stronger, more competitive, a more valuable asset for a career in the public or private sectors. Just talk to any of your colleagues who have spent some time abroad. And one of the first things they’ll tell you, for example, is that you’ll never learn a language or develop self-reliance as quickly as you will when you’re on your own in a foreign country!
But, she also called on GW students to give back in other ways as well. Noting that nearly half of GW’s graduates study abroad, she encouraged those students to reach out to those behind them and encourage those students to study abroad, “especially students from communities and backgrounds who might not normally consider it.” She recognized the advantage GW students have with their campus being located only blocks away from major internationally-focused organizations such as the State Department and World Bank, but noted that “many Americans either don’t have those opportunities or simply don’t consider them.”
Speaking from her own experience as a first-generation college student, the First Lady said, “I just never considered that I needed to take an additional journey or expand the boundaries of my own life.” Until she met her husband, she said that she was only focused on getting through school and paying off her loans. “His [life] had been more informed by experiences abroad. And watching him helped me to expand the way I looked at things; to consider my life as connected not just to my country but to the world. And it’s a perspective that we now are trying to instill in our daughters, as well.”
In addition to asking the students to do more, she also said that there are things the government can do to bring these opportunities within reach for more students. On top of the commitment her husband has made to doubling the size of Peace Corps, she said “[w]e’re also expanding exchange programs, study abroad opportunities; and encouraging universities like GW to create their own, because as those of you who have already participated in study abroad know, the most lasting lessons sometimes don’t always come from books.”
NAFSA thanks the First Lady for making this call to action and applauds the Administration’s efforts to put a global education within the reach of many more students. To read Michelle Obama’s full remarks at the George Washington University Commencement, click here.
What are your impressions of Michelle Obama’s speech?