By Elaine Sanchez American Forces Press Service WASHINGTON, June 6, 2011 - I attended a high school graduation ceremony Friday night that blew mine right out of the water.
First Lady Michelle Obama poses for photos with the graduates of Quantico Middle/High School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, June 3, 2011. DOD photoby Linda Hosek
Rather than a school or local official, First Lady Michelle Obama was the commencement speaker for this tiny class of 36 students at Quantico Middle/High School onMarine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Upon the announcement of her arrival, the students and their families stood and cheered for several minutes as she walked onto the stage.
The first lady said it was an honor to help celebrate the Quantico seniors, and praised the military teens' resilience and strength as they grew up in a time of war, dealing with the combined stress of multiple moves and deployments. "I think that all of you are incredibly special," she said.
After her remarks, the first lady stayed to help hand out diplomas. She gave each student a big hug and a few words of encouragement before posing for a picture with them.
Between the first lady and their graduation, the students seemed a bit awestruck after the ceremony as they walked into the lobby.
Ashtyn Morgan was in tears but told me they were tears of joy. "It was wonderful," she said, and it's all hitting home now."
Classmate Tiana Bernal said she was surprised when she found out the first lady would be there. And the speech struck a chord with her, she said, especially when the first lady talked about military kids having to move frequently. Bernal has moved four times during her dad's military career, and one of her classmates has moved 18 times in as many years.
Nearby, class valedictorian Brannon McKee Niblock, daughter of Marine Corps Col. Lester Niblock, embraced her family and friends. Like several of her classmates, Niblock plans to pursue a life of service, and is headed to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in the fall.
I asked her what the first lady told her on stage after she received her diploma. "She told me to 'do great things,'" she said.
Brannon's 14-year-old brother, Walter, scored a hug from the first lady as well. The teen called her an inspiration. "She took time out of her day to come here," he said. "It's something we'll remember for the rest of our lives."
In the opposite corner, nine students posed for a picture together to mark their new bond. These students were from Defense Department high schools in Japan and had left with their families after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit in March.
Alexa Remington Lazar of Nile C. Kinnick High School in Japan said it was tough to leave her school before graduation, especially since the Junior ROTC unit she commanded there just received a distinguished unit award. But Quantico embraced her and her classmates, she added.
Tonight she was all smiles as her family crowded round to congratulate her. Her father, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chuck Lazar, had just arrived from Japan two days earlier after staying behind to assist with humanitarian efforts there.
Lazar said he was impressed with the first lady's knowledge of what military kids go through.
As for his daughter, "I'm still in shock," she said. "I got to hug the first lady."
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