First lady Michelle Obama delivered the commencement speech at Bowie State University, emphasizing a message her husband first said: "Please stand up and reject the slander that says the black child with a book is trying to act white."
Highlighting how young African-Americans need the "hunger" for education that first resonated when historically black Bowie State opened in 1865, Obama discussed the graduates' responsibility to share their motivation in school with bourgeoning generations.
"No matter what career you pursue, every single one of you has a role to play as an educator for our young people," Obama said at the University of Maryland - College Park's Comcast Center, which housed a 10,000 person crowd including 600 graduates. "Be an example of excellence for the next generation."
Obama explained how post-Emancipation Proclamation education for African-American students, and white or black teachers who taught those students, was "literally a matter of life and death." The "hunger" which these individuals had for learning has grown since then, but needs more work, she said.
"Education was about more than learning how to read and write," Obama said. "Education means emancipation. It means light and liberty. ... The only light by which men can be free," she said, quoting Frederick Douglass.
She thanked her parents for their sacrifices that enabled her education, imparting particularly the first-generation college graduates at Bowie State to do the same.
"Their sacrifice is your legacy," Obama said.
She cited two statistics - that one in three African-Americans students drop out of high school, and one in five between 25- and 29-years old has a college degree - to demonstrate how more education African-Americans remains a responsibility of the Bowie State graduates.
"Take a stand against the media that elevates today's celebrity gossip instead of the serious issues of our time," Obama said. "We need to once again fight to educate ourselves and our children like our lives depend on it, because they do."
The first lady received an honorary doctorate of laws degree before she spoke. She will deliver another commencement speech at Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Magnet High School for Health Sciences and Engineering at Pearl High School in Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday.