During a brainstorming session between student leaders at the University of California Merced, the name Obama kept coming up. At first, Barack Obama was the goal, but students decided it would be too much of a stretch to attract the President of the United States to their commencement ceremony, so they besieged First Lady Michelle Obama — as if that wasn’t a stretch on its own.
22-year-old Efferman Ezell, currently a senior and Director of Student Activities for student government at UC Merced, was part of a group of students responsible for sparking the movement that lead to the First Lady addressing his graduating class this Saturday. He says the idea started as a joke and developed into something much more serious.
“Originally me and Yaasha (Sabba, President of UC Merced's student body) were in the office of student government watching movie trailers,” Ezell says. “Somehow we got on the topic of commencement and how we didn’t have a speaker. We felt that for us being a new University of California and us being the first graduating class, we thought that people would see the benefit of coming to the university and speaking to us.”
“My personal duty was to get a letter out to Michelle, to our congressman, our senator, our lieutenant governor. That was my main focus,” says Ezell. Writing letters was just one aspect of their campaign. Students set up a Facebook page titled “Dear Michelle”, produced a video called “We Believe” (watch it below), and sent out over a thousand Valentine's Day cards to Michelle Obama, which Ezell says really got the attention of White House staffers and the first lady. “We got over a thousand students to personally write something on the card asking and telling Michelle Obama why it was important for her to come here.” Ezell says, “We also went as far as to hand write the return address as well as the mailing address of almost 900 plus cards.”
“Originally, we were going to pack them up and send them all together,” but Efferman Ezell says students were strategic about even that. He remembers telling fellow students “We need to send these at least 50 to 100 at a time because we need to make sure they understand, it’s going to continue to come in.”
Before, during, and after Valentine's Day, the White House was flooded with UC Merced cards.
Now, after all the hard work, graduation is only a day away and Ezell says he can’t wait until Saturday for all of his classmates' work to come together. “One of the things we do expect from her—or would want to hear from her— is patience,” Ezell hopes Michelle Obama will reinforce the idea of perseverance, even in these bleak economic times. “When you don’t see any immediate results from your efforts or from the efforts of the economy, businesses, stimulus package, or things in general, you have to be patient because things take time. I think our experience kind of correlates to that.”
Ezell says that on Saturday he won't be surprised if he starts crying, adding that his four years at UC Merced have been the best of his life.