CORVALLIS, Ore. – First Lady Michelle Obama, a national champion of promoting healthier communities and better childhood nutrition, will provide the commencement address at Oregon State University on Sunday, June 17.
OSU President Ed Ray extended the invitation to the First Lady to participate in Oregon State’s 143rd annual commencement ceremony.
“Mrs. Obama’s leadership to improve the health of our nation’s communities and reduce obesity among young people is outstanding,” Ray said. “And her efforts are very much in keeping with Oregon State’s overall mission. As a top tier land grant university, we are focused on academic programs, research and outreach and engagement that promote healthy people, a healthy environment and a healthy economy.
“During her campaign for better childhood nutrition for improved community health, the First Lady has gained national insights, community perspectives and a passion for improved health that few can match,” Ray said. “We know that the 3,000 or so Oregon State bachelors, masters and doctoral degree graduates who will participate in this year’s commencement ceremony – and their guests and family members – will be inspired by Mrs. Obama’s address.”
Ray said Oregon State University and its students have long had a strong connection to fostering healthy communities and healthy lifestyle choices, including proper nutrition.
Members of SIFE – the Students in Free Enterprise team from Oregon State’s College of Business – earned first place in 2010 in the national “Let’s Can Hunger Challenge” sponsored by the Campbell Soup Co. and the national Students in Free Enterprise Organization.
OSU’s 14-person team conducted a tour of Oregon and U.S. cities to develop a greater understanding of model efforts to reduce hunger and build awareness about food insecurity. In each city they visited, team members rolled up their sleeves to volunteer and take an active role in understanding each community’s unique approach to battling hunger. Meanwhile, one Oregon State team member described team members as being jarred by learning during their tour that the state of Oregon ranked second in the nation for food insecurity.
OSU’s SIFE members said they were challenged by this unpleasant news and were “driven to make a difference” in Oregon communities. For their efforts to combat hunger, Campbell Soup featured the OSU students in a national print advertising campaign.
Ray said Oregon State researchers are also working to improve community health and prevent obesity among youngsters. Researchers Deborah John and Kathy Gunter have identified childhood obesity factors, including long bus rides; the existence of fewer resources to support physical activity among young people, such as recreational programs; and a lack of healthy food choices. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, John and Gunter are developing an obesity prevention program through the OSU Extension Service. The program will work in partnership with school districts, health care providers, parents and volunteers and will target children ages five to eight years old.
Volunteerism in reducing hunger has been a long tradition at Oregon State. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, university employees not only agreed to a salary cut, but each employee donated one day’s income each month for unemployment relief to assist those who had lost their jobs as a result of funding cuts. More recently, OSU has led all public campuses in Oregon in food donations as part of the annual Governor’s State Employee Food Drive. This year, more than 647,370 pounds of food were collected from donations made by faculty, staff, students and community members. This year’s collection dwarfed the 2011 Oregon State food drive by 71,695 pounds.
In addition to her strong commitment to healthy communities and proper nutrition, Ray said that Oregon State also enjoys another connection with the First Lady. Craig Robinson, OSU’s head men’s basketball coach, is Mrs. Obama’s brother.
This year’s commencement exercise is scheduled to be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, June 17.
Oregon State has a unique and storied approach to commencement. It is one of the nation’s few universities to provide graduates with their own actual diploma during the commencement ceremony. Oregon State has a 140-year history of offering the oath of office to officers of the U.S. Armed Services, who graduate each year from OSU as part of a military service officer training program; and President Ray annually recognizes three to four students, who have remarkable stories of personal or academic achievement, or who have overcome adversity in life along their way to graduation.
In addition to visiting Oregon State, Mrs. Obama will deliver commencement addresses at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) on May 11 and at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University (North Carolina A&T) on May 12.
Mrs. Obama will begin her 2012 commencement addresses at Virginia Tech, where she was inspired by the resilience of the student body and community coming together to support each other during difficult times. The next day, the First Lady will travel to North Carolina to speak at North Carolina A&T, part of the rich legacy of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that have been instrumental in educating generations of African Americans. The President and First Lady both have recognized the important contributions of HBCUs and have delivered commencement addresses to highlight their successes.
In 2009, Mrs. Obama spoke at the graduation of University of California Merced’s first full senior class. She also addressed the Washington Math and Science Tech Public Charter High School Graduation in Washington DC. In 2010, Mrs. Obama addressed graduates of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the George Washington University, and the Anacostia Senior High School. In 2011, Mrs. Obama delivered commencement addresses at the University of Northern Iowa, Spelman College, and Quantico Middle High School. The First Lady also spoke to graduates and families at West Point.