Michelle Obama to ‘speak about her own story’ at Hadiya Pendleton’s high school

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Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, left, mother of shooting victim, Hadiya Pendleton, stands next to Michelle Obama, center, before the State of the Union speech by President Barack Obama in 2013. | Courtesy ABC Network News

WASHINGTON — When first lady Michelle Obama delivers the commencement address on Tuesday to King College Prep graduates, she is expected to talk about growing up on Chicago’s South Side — and the 2013 murder of their classmate, Hadiya Pendleton.

She will “speak about her own story,” a White House official said. “This is a community the first lady knows and has been working with. . . . She will mention Hadiya.”

The school landed the first lady as a graduation speaker by winning a video contest encouraging students to complete the “FAFSA” form — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is a critical first step to securing financial assistance.

The video the King students and faculty shot at the school was a takeoff on the hit television show “Scandal.” The FAFSA contest was a project of Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” initiative, her drive to encourage students to attend college or continue past high school for professional training.

King, at 4445 S. Drexel, is the third and last commencement speech for Mrs. Obama in 2015. Earlier, she spoke at Tuskegee University in Alabama and Oberlin College in Ohio.

Her May 9 remarks at Tuskegee, one of the nation’s best-known historically black schools, was unusually candid as she talked about race and the pressures of being the first black first lady.

She told Tuskegee grads that during the 2007 campaign, where she was “potentially the first African-American first lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?

“Then there was the first time I was on a magazine cover — it was a cartoon drawing of me with a huge Afro and machine gun. Now, yeah, it was satire, but if I’m really being honest, it knocked me back a bit. It made me wonder, just how are people seeing me?”

Mrs. Obama heavily identified with Pendleton.

The 15-year-old was shot to death in 2013 in a park about a mile from the Obama family’s Kenwood home and not all that far from 7436 S. Euclid, where Mrs. Obama was raised. The first lady flew to Chicago to attend Pendleton’s funeral and invited her parents to sit with her in her box for the 2013 State of the Union Address.

In the wake of the murder of Pendleton and other youths in Chicago, in April 2013, Mrs. Obama came to Chicago to help Mayor Rahm Emanuel raise $50 million to help at-risk kids.

On that same day, she headed to Harper High School, 6520 S. Wood St., to meet with students and counselors whose lives have been touched by violence. In 2013, Harper was grappling with 29 current or former students who had been shot in the past year; eight of them died.

At the April 2013 stop in Chicago, Mrs. Obama reflected in a speech, “As I visited with the Pendleton family at Hadiya’s funeral, I couldn’t get over how familiar they felt to me. Because what I realized was Hadiya’s family was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her. But I got to grow up.”

The graduation takes place at Chicago State University’s Convocation Center.

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