First lady Michelle Obama today praised the bravery of the Navy SEALs who carried out the raid on Osama bin Laden, calling it "the essence of the word 'service,'" in her commencement address at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
The theme of her address to the graduating students was the value of service to others.
"Just imagine, a small group of brave men, dropped by helicopter, half a world away in the dead of night into unknown danger inside the lair of the most wanted man in the world," said the first lady. "They did not hesitate, risking everything for us, for our freedom and security.
"And they did it not just as Navy SEALs. They did it as husbands, as fathers, as sons," she said. "Their families were back here, with no idea of their mission or whether their loved one would ever come home. That is the very essence of the word 'service.'
"And the least we can do is give something back to these troops and their families who have given us so much."
This speech marks the first time a person from the White House administration to directly publically acknowledge the SEALs' role in the raid on bin Laden.
Obama's commencement address was also the first of the 2011 graduation season and her first visit to Iowa since the 2008 presidential election, which she warmly talked about during the 30-minute speech.
"The more that I shared my story with all of you and you shared your stories with me, the more I realized that what truly connects us is our shared values, in the end there is so much more that unites us than divides us," Obama said.
The first lady also spoke to the black-gowned students about quitting her job at a Chicago law firm to start a career of public service.
"I found that I would wake up every day with excitement, with a sense of purpose and possibility, because I was finally doing something that made me feel fully alive," she said. "And graduates, that's what I wish for all of you today -- for you to find that career, that calling, that makes you feel alive."
About 17,000 people gathered in the UNI-Dome for the graduation ceremony, which featured the Northern Iowa Symphony's "Fanfare for a First Lady," a piece composed by Rebecca Burkhardt, a UNI music professor.