'I Know The Struggles You Face' Michelle Obama Tells Students During Commencement Speech

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Jun 10, 2015 3:15PM

First Lady Michelle Obama gave a high school commencement address Tuesday night in Chicago to an auditorium of 3,000 people and one chair, left empty and decorated in purple to honor Hadiya Pendleton, the student who was fatally shot on her way home from school in 2013.

Pendleton would have been on track to graduate from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Prep yesterday. Her chair was strewn with fresh flowers, purple ribbons and cloth, the Tribune reports, and Obama said in her speech she wanted to honor the memory of her. The First Lady attended Pendleton's funeral in 2013.

In her speech, Obama spoke about the loss of Pendleton:

"I know many of you have already dealt with some serious losses in your lives. And I know that many of you are thinking about Hadiya right now and feeling the hole that she left in your hearts. But graduates, tonight, I want you to understand that every scar that you have is a reminder not just that you got hurt — but that you survived."

Obama, who grew up in South Shore and graduated from Whitney Young High School, said she could relate to the students, who may have struggled to avoid gangs, concentrate on schoolwork and watch their parents try to make ends meet.

"I know the strength of this community," she said.

Pendleton's presence was felt throughout the ceremony, according to the Tribune, but the ceremony still had a festive tone. Pendleton was featured in a video classmates made for the ceremony and her parents were presented with her cap and gown and a personalized class ring. She was also named the honorary prom queen by her classmates earlier this year.

Two years ago Pendleton's death became a national symbol of Chicago's out of control gun violence after she got caught in the crossfire of a shooting she had no role in.