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“Michelle Obama represents everything Spelman has taught us to be since freshman year,” beamed southwest Atlanta native and magna cum laude graduate Victoria Perry.

Today—along with over 500 graduates, including Perry—First Lady Michelle Obama, the nation’s first African-American First Lady, became a Spelmanite.

Backstage, graduates anxiously awaited their turn to march down the aisle. Within moments of entering the hall, anticipation gave way to thunderous cheers as award winning artists and sisters, Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen, marched in with the class of 2011. Both received Honorary Doctorates.

Then there was the cheer that threatened to bring down the walls of the Georgia International Convention Center as Michelle Obama took to the stage. After a heartfelt introduction by Spelman President, Dr. Beverly D. Tatum, Obama gave a soul-stirring challenge to the graduates.

“I want you to think about all those women who came before you,” the First Lady said. “They didn’t go around pointing fingers and making excuses.”

Beautifully weaving the rich heritage and history of the school into every moment of her speech, the First Lady continued, “They focused on what they did have…their intellect, their courage, their determination, their passion,” said Obama.

The speech brought many of the alumnae and 2011 graduates to tears.

“Wherever you go,” said the First Lady, “you will find folks who have been discounted but have every bit as much promise as you have.”

Pushing the ladies to serve others, the First Lady encouraged the graduates to use the power of their education and networking to change their communities and change their world.

“I was shocked that she knew all of our history,” said Christina Robinson, a 2007 graduate of the Southwest Christian Academy on Campbellton Road in southwest Atlanta. A political science major, Robinson is still choosing between three law schools for the fall.

Victoria Perry always knew that Spelman was her school of choice. Her mother is also an alumnae of the historic college. “Tonight we’ll put my degree in a frame and set it right next to hers,” said Perry, who grew up near Greenbriar Mall and graduated from North Atlanta High School. “I would love to see another generation of Spelman girls in our family in the future.”

Candice Cannon, a member of South Fulton’s Westlake High School class of 2007 was in disbelief about the day’s events. “The most touching part of the day was seeing Michelle Obama mouth the words ‘I’m a Spelman girl now’ after receiving her honorary degree.  That was so special to me. She’s joined our ranks!”

Cannon will begin studies in the fall at Chicago’s Loyola Law School.