In a commencement speech interwoven with key threads of history of the traditionally black women's college, founded in 1881, and its illustrious alumni, Obama told the graduates their degrees are "not an entitlement that you can take for granted."
"It's not a gift with which you can do whatever you please," she said. "It is a commitment that comes with a certain set of obligations, obligations that don't end when you march through that arch today."
She warned them "there will always be folks out there who make assumptions about others" and "who try to raise themselves up by cutting other people down.'
"That happens to everyone, including me, throughout their lives," she said. "But when that happens to you all, here's what I want you to do. I want you to just stop a minute. Take a deep breath, because it's going to need to be deep, and I want you to think about all those women who came before you ... [and] think about how they didn't sit around bemoaning their lack of resources and opportunities and affirmation.
"They didn't go around pointing fingers and making excuses for why they couldn't win a case or soar above the horizon. And instead of focusing on what they didn't have, they focused on what they did have: their intellect, their courage, their determination, their passion.
"You have an obligation to see each setback as a challenge and as an opportunity to learn and grow. You have an obligation to face whatever life throws your way with confidence and with hope."
The graduates' "mission," she said, is to "find those folks who have so much potential, but so little opportunity, and do for them what Spelman has done for you."
"Maybe it's a group of kids in your community," Obama said. "Maybe it's a struggling family at your church. And I'm not just talking about here at home. Maybe it's folks in a village or an inner-city halfway around the world.
"Wherever you go, I guarantee you that you will find folks who have been discounted or dismissed, but who have every bit as much promise as you have. It is your obligation to bring Spelman to those folks -- to bring that same presumption of value and worth, to make that same kind of sacrifice, to be as ambitious for them as Spelman has been for you."
She said that doesn't mean they shouldn't strive to do well financially and climb to career heights. "But as you climb those career ladders, just remember to reach down and pull others up behind you," she said.