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Michelle Obama Touts American Diversity, Hope in Final Speech as First Lady


Michelle Obama gives her final speech as first lady at the 2017 School Counselor of the Year ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2017.

Speaking publicly Friday for the last time as first lady, Michelle Obama addressed young people, particularly those who come from immigrant families, to let them know she thinks they are what makes America great, and that they will carry the country into the future.

"Know that this country belongs to you, to all of you, from every background and walk of life," the first lady said. "If you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition — the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas, generation after generation — that has made us the greatest country on Earth."

WATCH: Michelle Obama Addresses Young People

Obama spoke at a White House ceremony to honor the school counselor of the year, a tradition she began in 2015. The recipient this year, Terri Tchorzynski, is a counselor at the Calhoun Area Career Center in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Obama became emotional as she spoke about her own experience growing up and the hope her father had that his children would go to college. She told young people she wants them to know that they matter and they belong.

"That's the kind of hope that every single one of us — politicians, parents, preachers, all of us — needs to be providing for our young people," Obama said with tears in her eyes. "Because that is what moves this country forward every single day — our hope for the future and the hope that hard work inspires."

Last month, following the election of Donald Trump to succeed her husband as president, the first lady said many Americans no longer know what it feels like to have hope.

"We feel the difference now. See, now, we are feeling what not having hope feels like," she said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. "Hope is necessary. It's a necessary concept and Barack didn't just talk about hope because he thought it was just a nice slogan to get votes."

FILE - First lady Michelle Obama and television presenter Oprah Winfrey participate in the White House's "United State of Women" summit in Washington, June 14, 2016.
FILE - First lady Michelle Obama and television presenter Oprah Winfrey participate in the White House's "United State of Women" summit in Washington, June 14, 2016.

Thursday’s event, part of the "Reach Higher" program that Michelle Obama created to promote education, comes exactly two weeks before Trump is to be sworn in as president.

Obama encouraged students to "lead by example with hope" and urged them to never fear for their future, because she will be there to support them.

"To the young people here and the young people out there, do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don't matter, or like you do not have a place in our American story because you do, and you have the right to be exactly who you are," she said.

Youth programs, along with other health and education initiatives, have taken up a large portion of Obama's time in the White House, where she often holds events in support of her chosen issues.

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