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Michelle Obama to 2020 graduates: 'For those of you who feel invisible: Please know that your story matters'

In a virtual commencement speech to 2020 high school and college graduates posted online, Michelle Obama addresses the recent unrest in America, specifically the issue of racial disparity. By Kate Bennett, CNN

(CNN) -- In a virtual commencement speech to 2020 high school and college graduates posted online, former first lady Michelle Obama addresses the recent unrest in America, specifically the issue of racial disparity.

"In light of the current state of our country, I struggled to find the right words of wisdom for you today," Obama says in her lengthiest public remarks to date about the protests taking place in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. "I am here today to talk to you not as the former first lady, but as a real live person: a mother; a mentor; a citizen concerned about your future and the future of our country."

Obama tweeted a thread of messages on May 29 about her frustration with ongoing racism in America, stating in part, "I'm exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop."

Obama's Sunday afternoon address, just shy of 18 minutes and delivered from her Washington, DC, home, acknowledges the confusion and upheaval graduates might be feeling. She also notes the challenges of living in the era of Covid-19 and the havoc the virus has wreaked.

"Over these past couple of months our foundation has been shaken -- not just by a pandemic that stole too many of our loved ones, upended our daily lives, and sent tens of millions into unemployment, but also by the rumbling of the age-old fault lines that our country was built on: the lines of race and power that are now, once again, so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with."

Obama expresses empathy for graduates who might be feeling lost or overwhelmed, adding she, too, feels those emotions.

"For those of you who feel invisible: Please know that your story matters. Your ideas matter. Your experiences matter. Your vision for what our world can and should be matters. So, don't ever, ever let anyone tell you that you're too angry, or that you 'should keep your mouth shut,'" she says.

The former first lady outlines the social, political and cultural foundation of today's challenges, which have been fomented, she says, over many decades of disparity, before noting present-day headlines. "If you don't feel safe driving your own car in your own neighborhood, or going for a jog, or buying some candy at 7/11, or bird-watching -- if you can't even approach the police without fearing for your life -- well, how do you begin to chart your own course?," she asks.

Obama -- who since leaving the White House has continued her work globally supporting girls and women, established When We All Vote and wrote a best-selling memoir -- shares with graduates her personal life lessons. Obama says young people should embrace life's uncertainty, and channel anger and energy into action. She says though "our democracy isn't perfect," it remains the basis of change. "But it doesn't work if you silence yourselves," Obama says. "It does not work if you disengage from the process, and we're seeing the consequences of that right now."

Obama also emphasizes "time-tested values like honesty and integrity, empathy and compassion."

"Now, I'm not naive. I know that you can climb a long way up the ladder selling falsehoods and blaming others for your own shortcomings, shunning those with less privilege and advantage. But that is a heavy way to live," she says. "It may seem like a winning strategy in the short run, but trust me, graduates, that kind of life catches up to you."

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