First Lady Michelle Obama addressed Baltimore area students and residents on Sept. 21 at a fundraising event held at the Murphy Center of Fine Arts at Morgan State University. Obama spoke last in a line of important Md. figures including President of Morgan State University David Wilson, Senators Barbara Mikulsky (D) and Ben Cardin (D), Representative Elijah Cunnings (D), as well as Governor Martin O’Malley (D).
“You all seem pretty fired up and ready to go. And that’s good, because after our convention a couple of weeks ago, I’m feeling kind of fired up and ready to go myself,” Obama said to an auditorium filled with college students.
Obama framed her speech around President Obama’s accomplishments pertaining to the interests and lives of students, such as his efforts to keep student loan interest rates down, health care reform and the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
“So when people ask you what this President has done for our country...I want you to tell them about the millions of jobs Barack has created, about the health reform he passed. Tell them about all those kids who can finally afford college,” Obama said.
She referenced her husband’s doubling of Pell Grants and efforts to keep student interest rates low. She stressed that she and her husband understand the financial burdens of being a student and can sympathize with students who have to take out loans to finance their education. “In fact...when we were first married, our combined monthly student loan bills were actually higher than our mortgage. So, yeah, when it comes to student debt, Barack and I, we’ve been there. This is not a hypothetical,” Obama said.
Obama spoke to her husband’s character to explain why she fell in love with him, as a word of advice to the “fellas” in the audience.
“It was his decency, his honesty, his compassion and conviction. I loved that Barack was so committed to serving others that he turned down high-paying jobs, and instead started his career fighting to get folks back to work in struggling communities,” Obama said. “And I loved that Barack was devoted to his family, especially the women in his life.”
Obama issued a call to action to the audience, describing how close the upcoming election in November will be and that it is dependent upon winning battleground states, such as Virginia and North Carolina.
She exemplified how close the race was in these states in 2008. Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes, or just five votes per precinct.
She stressed that every vote holds significance. She urged the audience to volunteer for the campaign to win.
“That could mean just one vote in a dorm room, in an apartment. So if there is anyone here who might be thinking to themselves, well, maybe my vote doesn’t matter, maybe my involvement doesn’t count, maybe in this complex political process ordinary folks can’t possibly make a difference — if anybody is thinking like that, I want you to think about those five votes,” Obama said.
Charnelle Bacon, a Senior at Morgan State University, introduced the first lady to the stage. Having survived cancer and dealt with student loans, Bacon served as an example of someone who has benefited from Barack Obama’s policies.
“Insurance companies now have to cover basic preventative care, things like contraception, cancer screenings, with no out-of-pocket cost. They won’t be able to discriminate against people like Charnelle because you’ve got a preexisting condition,” Obama said of Bacon’s situation.
Obama then continued with showing her husband’s dedication to woman, noting the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act as the first act her husband passed in office.
“When it comes to understanding the lives of women — when it comes to standing up for our rights and our opportunities — we know that my husband will always have our backs,” Obama said.
Sophomore Leah Baressi connected strongly with the speech’s focus on health care reform, higher education and women’s rights.
“Those are all things that are really important to me as a student and as a young woman,” Baressi said.
Senior Matt Stewart, President of Hopkins College Democrats, was impressed by the general “classiness” of the speech.
“She didn’t even have to call anyone out. I thought that was very tasteful on her part,” Stewart said. Stewart also noted that the First Lady’s speech at Morgan State University was very similar to the one she gave at the Democratic National Convention.
“[It] is a good thing.” Steward said. “She arguably had the most memorable speech from the convention.”
“We are only 48 days away from the election, and it can determine the future for the next 50 years,” Mikulsky said in her speech.