First lady Michelle Obama on Friday delivered a rebuke to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, without mentioning him by name.
Speaking at the City College of New York’s commencement ceremony, Obama denounced one of Trump’s signature proposals — construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border — lamented “name-calling” and faulted “some folks out there” who “demonize and dehumanize entire groups of people.”
The Princeton and Harvard alumna urged the graduates to heed “the lessons of our history” and cherish immigrants’ contributions to America.
She listed prominent City College alumni who were foreign-born, including Intel founder Andrew Grove, who came to America from Hungary to flee Nazi persecution.
“Here in America, we don’t give in to our fears. We don’t build up walls to keep people out, because we know that our greatness has always depended on contributions from people who were born elsewhere but sought out this country,” Obama said.
The first lady spoke at the nearly 170-year-old school’s main campus in upper Manhattan under cloudy skies and sporadic drizzle. The Class of 2016 has 3,848 undergraduates and graduate students, and as many as half are the first to go to college in their families, according to CUNY.
Obama criticized “some folks out there” who “view our diversity as a threat to be contained, rather than as a resource to be tapped. They tell us to be afraid of those who are different, to be suspicious of those with whom we disagree. They act as if name-calling is an acceptable substitute for thoughtful debate.”
Beyond an $8 billion wall, which Trump says Mexico will pay for, Trump wants a moratorium on Muslims coming into the United States and deportation of the estimated 11 million immigrants who are here illegally.
Obama has delivered nearly two dozen graduation addresses during her husband Barack Obama’s two terms in office. She said she chose City College as the site of her last one because of its diverse student body and its history.
During the early 20th century, City College became known as “the poor man’s Harvard.” Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton would admit only a handful of Jews and other minorities.
“City College became a haven for brilliant, motivated students of every background — a place where they didn’t have to hide their last names or their accents or put on any kind of airs, because the students at this school were selected based not on pedigree but on merit and merit alone.”
On Friday, as Obama stood on the dais to receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, there were cheers: “We love you, Michelle!” “Four more years!” One young woman said of the first lady: “One of us!”
In a speech before Obama spoke, valedictorian Andoni Mourdoukoutas of Lindenhurst celebrated his City College experience with his diverse classmates.
Mourdoukoutas’ mother, Rose, said in an interview that her son was raised in a home where “we love culture and food.” She said her eldest daughter speaks five languages and has worked for the United Nations.
“I truly feel blessed. I just give him the roots and he takes it from there,” Rose Mourdoukoutas said of her son, who will study in a joint program of the University of California, Berkeley and UC, San Francisco this fall, and plans to do graduate studies in biomedical engineering.
With Maria Alvarez