First Lady leaves Topeka high school graduates with memorable words

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TOPEKA, Kan. -- The First Lady of the United States landed in Topeka Friday to speak to graduating high school seniors on the eve of a momentous anniversary. Michelle Obama spoke at Landon Arena during Topeka’s senior appreciation day.

The day also marked the eve of the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision declaring segregated school unconstitutional. It was a decision that came after a federal lawsuit filed in 1954 in Topeka.

The first stop for the First Lady was the Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site. It was that Supreme Court case and how it changed America that Obama used as the backdrop for her speech to the nearly 1,000 Topeka high school graduates.

“We need your generation to help us break through — we need all of you to ask the hard questions and have the honest conversations because that is the only way we will heal the wounds of the past and move forward to a better future," the First Lady said to the graduates.

At Friday night’s senior recognition night, Michelle Obama spoke of the importance of learning from each and every person, and of keeping an open mind and an eye on success.

“So if you ever get tired, if you ever think about giving up, I want you to remember that journey from a segregated school in Topeka all the way to the White House,” said Michelle Obama.

Sixty years on from the Supreme Court ruling that deemed segregation in schools unconstitutional, the First Lady asked the 2014 graduating class to continue to keep communities and neighborhoods diverse and desegregated.

It was a message well received by both students and parents.

"Just being the class of 2014 and knowing that we have a chance to go and make history and go out and change the world, I just think that’s momentous. It was breathtaking. Truly a moment in history I think we’re all going to remember for the rest of our lives. And I’m just honored to be a part of it,” said Tyler Rodriguez, a graduating senior at Topeka High School.

"She was really being honest and truthful, so I’m very excited to go into the world with her message," said Shayna McCall, a senior graduating from Highland Park High School.

The First Lady’s appearance coupled with the achievements of those set to walk the graduation stage was a moment many said they would not forget.

"I can only imagine, having graduated from Topeka West in 1968 myself, I can only image what it must be doing for the hearts of these kids who are graduating here tonight," said Marshall Barber, whose kids graduated from Topeka high schools a few years ago.

He came Friday night to support the current graduates and to see the First Lady.

"A lot of the time it was just like wow, this can’t be happening to my class so it was kind of crazy, said senior Brianna Stamps, who graduates Saturday from Highland Park High School.

Michelle Obama was supposed to speak at a joint graduation ceremony for all area high schools Saturday, but after public outcry that there wouldn’t be enough seats for family and friends with that idea, and after a petition signed by 1,800 students, her speech was moved to Friday.

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