"Don't ever, ever shy away from a good struggle," Mrs. Obama said. "(Life) is an endless process of struggle and success."
The first lady spoke to graduates of the D.C. College Access Program, which provides mostly low-income, minority students and parents with college preparatory counselling and financial assistance. These students are also often the first in their families to go to college, according to program.
Mrs. Obama said that while growing up she experienced some of the same hardships that many of the graduates have endured. Struggle is not a sign of weakness, she told them; it is a sign of growth. Everyone struggles in life, she said, but those who succeed work harder when faced with challenges, rather than giving up.
"Don't get angry, don't get anxious or insecure," she said. "In the end, success is always your best revenge."
Her speech was interrupted by laughter and applause throughout, and shouts of "Amen!" and "Yeah!"
This was the first lady's third address to graduates this year. In May, she gave the commencement address for Dillard University in New Orleans and, a week later, spoke to graduating seniors from public schools in Topeka, Kansas.
Last month, she announced the Reach Higher Initiative, which aims to get more high school graduates enrolled in post-secondary education. Helping young people defy odds to complete their education is one of her goals, the first lady said.
"I will be doing this work, not just for the rest of my time as first lady," she said, "but for the rest of my life."