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Michelle Obama’s advice to grads: ‘Don’t worry’

The first lady told 98 graduates of a Washington, D.C., math and science charter school that before going off to Princeton University she worried about whether she was ready and would fit in.
/ Source: The Associated Press

First lady Michelle Obama used some high-profile examples — including Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor — to reassure high school graduates any doubts they have about how they will do in college and beyond are not unusual.

She mentioned her own anxieties when first starting at Princeton University, as well as the concerns of Sotomayor, the first Hispanic considered for the nation's highest court. Sotomayor attended Princeton before Mrs. Obama and has said the surroundings intimidated her.

"I don't know if you know about this phenomenal woman, but the president — she's the president's nominee for the Supreme Court — and she's the first Hispanic woman to be considered for the position. The first," Mrs. Obama said, using her graduation speech Wednesday to make a pitch for the nominee.

Mrs. Obama said Sotomayor "said when she stepped on that campus, she said — and this is a quote — she said she felt like 'a visitor landing in an alien country.' And she said she never raised her hand her first year because — and this is a quote — she 'was too embarrassed and too intimidated to ask questions.'

Mrs. Obama said "despite all of her success at Princeton — and then she went on to Yale Law School where she was at the top of her class, in both schools — and despite all of her professional accomplishments, Judge Sotomayor says she still looks over her shoulder and wonders if she measures up.

"Judge Sotomayor is more than ready," Mrs. Obama told the students.

Mrs. Obama said her husband, Barack Obama, "a biracial kid with a funny name from Hawaii, of all places," overcame feelings of self-doubt to win the ultimate prize in politics.

"We all felt a little like you might feel right now. We all had doubts. We all have doubts," said Mrs. Obama, who graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School. "But in the end we were all more than ready."

"You are more than ready," she told the 98 young men and women awarded diplomas from a city math, science and technology public charter school.

Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama, said the first lady's comments were a way to pair the graduates with higher-profile people of similar interests or backgrounds "to illustrate that these students can reach for and achieve their dreams."

Mrs. Obama has given two commencement speeches this year, including last month at the University of California-Merced.

She said she chose the Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter High School because she wanted to celebrate the achievements of students from her new hometown. She also came, she said, because student Jasmine Williams wrote a letter inviting her.

Principal Mark Holbrook said most of the students come from neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, a long-neglected area of the city plagued by crime and drugs.

Ninety-nine percent of the graduates — all of them black and Hispanic — have been accepted at two- and four-year colleges, including Georgetown, Howard, and Syracuse universities, Morehouse College and the University of Virginia, he said.