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First lady fires up students, knocks GOP during final collegiate keynote in N.Y.C.

"Places that stifle the voices and dismiss the potential of their citizens are diminished ... less vital, less hopeful, less free," the first lady said in her commencement address Friday.

By Doug G. Ware
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First lady fires up students, knocks GOP during final collegiate keynote in N.Y.C.
First lady Michelle Obama delivers her final graduation address at the 170th Commencement Ceremony of the City College of New York in Harlem, New York, Friday, June 3, 2016. More than 3,000 students made up the school's Class of 2016. Photo by Bryan R. Smith/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, June 3 (UPI) -- Michelle Obama delivered her final commencement address as first lady on Friday, encouraging students at one of New York City's oldest and most diverse campuses to be strong leaders in their days ahead.

Obama delivered her speech at the City College of New York, the senior higher education institution of the City University of New York system..

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"I know this is a big day for all of you and your families," she said in her opening remarks. "This is a big day for me, too. See, this is my very last commencement address as first lady of the United States."

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More than 3,000 students comprise the graduating class this year at CCNY's Harlem campus, which is home to one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation. More than 40 percent are first-generation college students, almost 40 percent are non-native English speakers, and half are from low-income households.

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Established as a free institution in 1847, CCNY was founded with a substantially philanthropic goal: To make college and subsequent life advancement available to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status.

"This was the perfect place to be, because this is my last chance to share my love and admiration, and hopefully a little bit of wisdom, with the graduating class," she added. "There is a reason why, of all the colleges and universities in this country, I chose this particular school, in this particular city for this special moment."

Friday was the 23rd time since she became first lady that Obama, a graduate of both Princeton and Harvard, gave a commencement speech -- and the third this year. It was her first at CCNY.

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A student with a hopeful message on his mortar board looks on before first lady Michelle Obama delivers her final graduation address at the 170th Commencement Ceremony of the City College of New York in Harlem, New York, Friday, June 3, 2016. More than 3,000 students made up the school's Class of 2016. Photo by Bryan R. Smith/UPI

"I have seen how places that stifle the voices and dismiss the potential of their citizens are diminished -- how they are less vital, less hopeful, less free." - Michelle Obama, June 3, 2016

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During her remarks, the first lady praised the school for its diversity -- and midway through her speech took what sounded like a thinly-veiled shot at Republicans, and perhaps the party's nominee, Donald Trump, who's been a prominent figure in New York City for decades.

"Some folks out there today seem to have a very different perspective. They seem to view our diversity as a threat to be contained rather than as a resource to be tapped," she said. "They tell us to be afraid of those who are different, to be suspicious of those with whom we disagree.

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"They act as if name calling is an acceptable substitute for thoughtful debate."

President Barack Obama made similar critiques of Republicans during his commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado a day earlier.

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"Leaders who rule by intimidation ... [and] demonize and dehumanize entire groups of people often do so because they have nothing else to offer," Michelle Obama continued. "That is not who we are. That is not what this country stands for -- no, no."

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Other notable universities that have featured Obama as the commencement speaker in the last seven years are George Washington University, Virginia Tech and Oregon State University, where her brother was head coach of the school's men's basketball team.

"I love you all," she said in her concluding remarks, which drew raucous cheers. "Thank you for allowing me to share this final commencement with you. I have so much faith in who you will be."

Video: City University of New York

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