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Michelle Obama gets choked up in inspiring final address as first lady

'Don't be afraid. Be focused.'


Amrita Khalid


Posted on Jan 6, 2017   Updated on May 25, 2021, 6:14 am CDT

Michelle Obama’s final speech as first lady on Friday was both determined and deeply personal, as she addressed young Americans headed for a highly uncertain future. 

“I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong,” Obama said in remarks at the White House during the award ceremony for 2017’s School Counselor of the Year. 

Obama’s speech contained a determined call to action for young Americans—seemingly intended for those who are women, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ, anyone often left in the margins—who are certain to face challenges in the incoming presidential administration. 

“So don’t be afraid. You hear me, young people? Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of you boundless promise. Lead by example with hope, never fear,” said Obama. 

At times, Obama turned tearful as she spoke—and her audience did as well. 

School Counselor of the Year was a tradition Obama began in 2015 as a part of her Reach Higher campaign to inspire high school students to take charge of their future. Prior first ladies have chosen to use their position to tackle issues as diverse as highway beautification, literacy, and healthcare. 

Obama has centered her eight years on the lives of young people—especially young women—focusing on childhood obesity, secondary education, and women’s empowerment. 

You can watch the full address below:

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*First Published: Jan 6, 2017, 4:20 pm CST