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Barbara Bush Quotes Michael Jackson in High School Commencement Speech

June 14, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Barbara Bush capped her springtime round on the commencement circuit exhorting black high school graduates to remember their most important role model ″is the man or the woman in the mirror.″

″If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change,″ the first lady said, quoting a line from a Michael Jackson song, at the graduation ceremony Wednesday at Dunbar High School.

She proffered much the same advice about the importance of family, joie de vivre and altruism that she gave the graduates of Wellesley College in a nationally televised address June 1.

But if some seniors at that exclusive women’s college had misgivings about whether President Bush’s homemaker wife was a suitable role model, the 287 Dunbar graduates gathered in Constitution Hall seemed thrilled to hear from her.

Senior class president Michael Watts said he was ″proud that such an outstanding lady, and the first lady of our nation, cares so much to take the time to encourage, motivate and demonstrate to us that we can better ourselves.″

Dunbar once was a showcase school for the District of Columbia’s brightest black students in an era of official segregation. Today it is a regular public school in a crime-ridden neighborhood.

Mrs. Bush read from the roster of such famous graduates as blood plasma pioneer Dr. Charles Drew and Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis and called Dunbar ″one of the most illustrious high schools in the country.″

She urged the graduates to ″believe in something bigger than yourself. Get involved in some of the big ideas of our time,″ such as cleaning up the environment or fighting hunger and homelessness.

″The most important role model you will ever have is the man or the woman in the mirror,″ she said. ″If you think you can’t, you won’t. And if you think you can, you will.″

She reminded the graduates that life is ″supposed to be fun. Find the joy in life.″

And finally, as she told Wellesley graduates, she admonished the Dunbar students to put family ahead of career.

″However important your obligations as a doctor, a lawyer, or business leader will be, you are a son or a daughter first, a husband or a wife first, a mother or a father first,″ she said. ″If you decide to have children, love them, listen to them, put them first.″

Mrs. Bush also was the commencement speaker at Southeast Community College in Cumberland, Ky., the University of Pennsylvania and St. Louis University last month, and she spoke at Kennebunk High School near her summer home in Maine last Sunday.

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