Michelle Obama slams Trump, praises diversity in City College commencement speech

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HAMILTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan — It's one of the most ethnically diverse universities in the world, and that's part of the reason why City College is the place Michelle Obama chose as the location of her last commencement speech as first lady.

Another reason was to call for greater spending on public universities, and as many graduates pointed out, the condition of many of the facilities at City College underscore why the first lady's call for more funding is urgent.

There were gray skies above the university's 163rd commencement ceremony, but it could not dampen the spirits of the 4,000 City College graduates and their families.

The class's diversity was pointed out by many of the speakers on the dais, who noted more than once that at least 100 languages are spoken by senior class members, about 40 percent of whom are the first in their families to graduate from college.

More diversity came in the form of the class salutatorian, Orubba Almansouri, a a hijab-wearing Muslim who's originally from Yemen.  She had to fight centuries of tradition to be the first female from her tribe to go to college rather than be placed in an arranged marriage.

The valedictorian, Antonios Mourdoukoutas, a Greek- and Italian-American from Long Island, also talked about diversity in his speech.  His words, which praised "the power of our differences" moved Mrs. Obama so strongly that she quoted them in her own speech.

Also, without directly saying his name, the first lady refuted statements Donald Trump has made throughout the presidential campaign against immigration.

"We don't build up walls to keep people out," Mrs. Obama declared, to rousing cheers. "That is not what this country stands for," she told the 16,000 people in attendance.

They clearly adored the speech and the speech-giver, at one point shouting "Four more years" to the first lady.  But she also tasked them with using the strong, diverse education they'd just finished receiving to help others like themselves.

"Your obligation," she told the graduates, is "making sure this school has the funding and support that it needs."

"We have to strengthen our public universities," she declared.

The commencement ceremony was held on the sparkling, year-old southern half of the 35-acre campus.  However, a look around many of the other areas of City College shows why students and families agree with the first lady that more funding is needed.

The railing on a pedestrian bridge that extends over the center of campus deteriorated away so long ago that work crews had to erect fences on its side to prevent people from falling over the edge.

In plain view in the central hall of the student center are three large buckets, placed side by side to catch the leaks from the pipes in the ceiling.  Such scenes are common throughout the building, as well as other buildings on campus.

In the college library, a section of bookshelves are covered with plastic sheeting to prevent ceiling leaks from inundating the books underneath.

Every student that PIX11 News spoke with had their own story of how a severe shortage of funding to the college had significantly compromised their experience.

"Sometimes in lab," said chemistry graduate Chidi Annadi, "instead of working two to a table," as is common at colleges nationwide, "we have to have five to a  table, or we have to watch the instructor to the experiment."

Two other chemistry majors, Carolina Sulane and Zulena Saravia, said that the leaky ceilings in the Marshak Building have a disturbing side effect.

"We get water bugs," said Sulane.  "There's hugest roaches like this," said Saravia, as she spread her thumb and pointer finger three inches apart.  "Sometimes you see a mouse running through the lecture," she added.  "It interrupts the lecture.  You see roaches crawling up the wall."

She also said that the campus pool, which is also in the Marshak Building, where she and Sulane take many classes, is out of operation, and has been for three years.

Matthew Addeo graduated Friday in architecture, and said that the condition of one of the campus's newer buildings, the Spitzer Architecture Buildings, is compromised.  It's an irony, he said, for architects-to-be to be subjected to less than perfect conditions in their department's building.

"We have a great atrium space," he told PIX11 News, "and there's a leak in the building that we can't afford to pay right now."

Days ago, the chancellor of the City University of New York, James Milliken, who also oversees operation of City College, sent out a letter to faculty and students acknowledging a significant shortfall in funding to all of the campuses in the CUNY system.  He called for professors to be given a long overdue new work contract.

He also said that "policy makers and CUNY leadership" need to address problems of infrastructure and maintenance.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are in a legislative dispute over funding for CUNY.  The governor has cited healthier city budgets of recent years as reason for the state to contribute less financially to CUNY's operations.  Mayor de Blasio has criticized any move by the state to cut funding to the city's public colleges and universities.