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michelle obama's moving tribute to native american youth

Watch FLOTUS do the commencement address at a New Mexico school for indigenous students.

by Rory Satran
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May 31 2016, 7:15pm

Emanuel Vigil is valedictorian of the Santa Fe Indian School, a member of the Jicarilla Apache tribe, and a pretty major Lady Gaga fan. He also had the honor of sitting next to Michelle Obama during last week's SFIS graduation, where FLOTUS gave a commencement speech that will rightly be destined for every "most inspiring grad speeches" list until the end of the internet. Speaking at the historically significant school, Obama connected her own story as a descendent of slaves to the collective obstacles facing the students representing marginalized tribes across the southwest.

With his long braids, hair feather, earrings, and silver beaded tunic, Vigil was representative of the multiplicity of incredible indigenous looks onstage and in the audience. Your typical American graduation full of floral dresses and dad khakis this was not. Although originally founded as one of the infamous, whitewashing boarding schools of the late 19th century, designed to eradicate native culture, the school became exactly the opposite. Now operated by the 19 Pueblo governors of New Mexico, it sits on tribal land and preserves the exact cultures it was originally created to destroy.

After describing her family's path from the South Side of Chicago to the White House, Obama told the students, "your values are my values." Her speech made clear that she looks to these students as the anti-Trump, capable of representing little-heard voices. "Your community needs you," she said. "And more than ever before, our world needs you, too. And you don't need your First Lady to tell you that. All you have to do is tune in to the news and you'll see that right now, some of the loudest voices in our national conversation are saying things that go against every single one of the values that you've been living at this school."

As she finished her remarks to a standing ovation, Ms. Obama looked visibly emotional, the kind of passion you can't write into any speech. Her willingness to bring to light this outstanding student body (who collectively won over $5 million in scholarships) shows the power of politics. As for Emmanuel Vigil, he'll be at Columbia next year. And we can't wait to see what he does after that. 


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