Two years ago, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was the victim of a fatal gunshot while at a park with her friends in South Side, Chicago, the city's most infamously dangerous area. On Tuesday, speaking at what would have been Hadiya's graduation ceremony with 177 other King College Prep High School graduates, Michelle Obama challenged the Chicago high school graduates to rise above the tragedy and transform the neighborhood rife with rampant violence and economic hardship.
An empty chair was draped in Hadiya's favorite color, purple, with flowers placed on top, and her family was presented with a cap and gown and a class ring. Even as her presence was noticeably absent in the class of 2015, FLOTUS reminded graduates to stay hungry, despite their failures and their grief.
"Instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage or exhaust you, let them inspire you," Mrs. Obama said. "Let them make you even hungrier to succeed." She added:
And, graduates, today, I want to urge you all to do the same thing. There are so many folks in your school and in your families who believe in you, who have sacrificed for you, who have poured all of their love and hope and ambition into you. And you need to stay hungry for them.
Hadiya Pendleton was the victim of random gun violence.
Hadiya's death in 2013, on the heels of the horrific Newtown, Conn., shooting, struck a personal chord with the Obamas. The 15-year-old was killed just days after participating in President Obama's second inauguration, about a mile from their home in Chicago. The First Lady attended her funeral.
Mrs. Obama said in her speech that she wanted people to know about the rest of South Side, where she grew up, and the communities that transcended the neighborhood's reputation.
I'm here tonight because I want people across this country to know that story, the real story of the South Side — the story of that quiet majority of good folks, families like mine and young people like you who face real challenges, but make good choices every single day. ...
And with every word you speak, with every choice you make, with the way you carry yourself each day, you are rewriting the story of our communities. And that's a burden that President Obama and I proudly carry every single day in the White House.