Michelle

In a recent graduation speech delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama to the 2013 graduating class of Bowie State University — a historically black university — Michelle Obama chastised and reduced the career aspirations of black youth to wanting to be “ballers.” In her commencement speech to Bowie State University, First Lady Michelle Obama boldly stated:

“Today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of ‘separate but equal,’ when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered,”

“Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours, playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper … ”

The notion that black youth aspire to become star athletes and famed rappers holds some validity in the same respect that non-black youth also fantasize about becoming a celebrity, rock star, or athlete. Alyssa Rossenberg (A writer for Think Progress) put it best, when scrutinizing Michelle Obama’s comments about black youth by saying:

“The same is more true for sports than Mrs. Obama’s remarks would suggest. In Division I men’s basketball, 1,443 or 27% of the 5,265 players who participated in the 2011-2012 season were white, while 3,158 or 59% were African-American. During that same season, in Division I baseball, the figures were most striking, 8,304 or 82% of the 10,093 players, were white that season. Clearly, in the college athletic programs that feed into careers in professional sports, there’s a great deal of white interest and participation, even if it isn’t evenly distributed by sport. Miami Heat star LeBron James may be an argument for skipping college in pursuit of a professional athletic career right out of high school, but so is Washington Nationals left-fielder Bryce Harper, who earned a GED and didn’t even finish high school in a classroom setting,”

Aside from rattling off sports statistics, Rosenberg’s bigger argument is that Michelle Obama took a stereotypical shot at black youth wanting to be “ballers” but neglected to address the real problems hindering black youth from excelling in careers outside of sports and entertainment careers. Rosenberg points out that equal access to standardized test prep, navigating the admissions process, and managing the cost of financial aid are proven barriers for black students.

While I agree that Michelle Obama’s comment was painfully admissible, the truth is many might construe her comment as distasteful and misplaced. Whether it was tough love or just plain apathy, commencement speeches are supposed to inspire, motivate, and congratulate, not give weight to the various stereotypes that haunt black college educated graduates. Taken in or out of context, Michelle Obama’s comments further prove there are certain stigmas and stereotypes that unfairly shape how society, employers, and we ourselves view each other.

 

  • Missy

    Obama and his wife need to knock off the “Negroes get your stuff together” speeches. They were standing in front of hundreds of black people who busted that stereotype wide open, but were too dense to see it.

  • aziza123

    Aren’t the obamas the ones that invite rapper jayz and his booty shaking wife to the white house frequently?

  • L

    This just goes to show how they really feel and I now feel like my vote was wasted. My mom in her late fifties didn’t vote and explained why…She had wisdom and was 100% correct in her assessment of Obama.

  • Melanie

    “And as my husband has said often, please stand up and reject the slander that says a black child with a book is trying to act white. Reject that.” – FLOTUS at Bowie
    _____________

    The speech was inappropriate for the occasion and condescending for an audience of college graduates. It may have been more appropriate for a middle school commencement ceremony. The people in that audience had already demonstrated a commitment to education and aspiring beyond stereotypes. It would be nice if tthe FLOTUS and POTUS stopped talking down and chiding the audience whenever they speak to black people.
    There is a twinge of hypocrisy in the message, given that who they choose to publicly hold up as role models.

  • Missy

    I appreciate the thumbs down, it tells me I said something right.

    Michelle Obama: “If I could be anyone else, I would want to be Beyonce. ‘It looks like musicians just have the most fun,’

    lol

    Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/michelle-obama-beyonce-article-1.1084226#ixzz2TrZr5pJB

  • http://www.lillian-mae.com Lillian Mae

    Honestly, that was my one ‘WTF Moment’ for Michelle Obama.

  • http://www.lillian-mae.com Lillian Mae

    RE: She had wisdom and was 100% correct in her assessment of Obama.
    I’d love to hear her assessment!

  • omfg

    @aziza123

    yeah, pretty ironic considering beyonce is a role model to mrs o’s daughters. and her husband, jay z a rapper and former drug dealer, like’s to act like they are bff’s.

    neither of them have gone anywhere near college. beyonce only recently learned how to articulate herself in english.

    very disappointing stuff from mrs. o.

  • Kam

    I don’t mind the chiding, but tell it to the people that need it. They can’t take time to go and visit with the youth in Chicago and give them some motivation and encouragement? Why waste this speech on people who are already doing the right thing?

  • kellie

    Thanks. I am happy someone else agrees with me regarding the speeches the President always delivers to us. We’re the people who stood on lines 4 & 5 hours to vote for him. He always lectures us on how to live. Now Mrs. Obama is doing the same. They never give “…get your stuff together” speeches to other groups. I’m still trying to understand Mrs. Obama saying that Beyonce was a “role model.” Really? There is no record of Beyonce ever going to high school or receiving a GED. They are such a disappointment, such a disappointment!

  • Anthony

    Hey, Michele’s speech matches the one her hubby gave at amore house yesterday where he told them about the need to raise their children! Pardon my French, but if Rand Paul gave speech like the one Obama regularly delivers to black people, we’d be ready to knock his nuts off!

  • GG

    Exactly! You are preaching to the wrong audience. I guess all black people are the same geesh!

  • Rue.

    Oy Vey. I like the First Lady but come on! can’t black grads just have a “You’ll fail plenty, but pick yourselves back up, remember to be good citizens and please enjoy your few years on earth” speech?

  • Anthony

    The truth is that when the Obama’s make that sort of speech it is really for white people. The Obamas are forever proving that they play no favorites when it comes to black people.

  • http://tontonmichel.tumblr.com/ Tonton Michel

    Why give this speech to college grads? Like a commentator already said those comments are more suitable for high school or middle school kids. I understand what they want to do, light a fire under the unmotivated masses and push independence, but the way they communicate this they always come off as cranky old people yelling at teens to get their lazy butts off their lawn. Problem is there not even giving that message to the ones who need it.

  • Kellie

    I agree with all the posts. I wondered if we would ever understand what they have been saying to us, especially the President. That wonderful boys academy in Chicago that graduate 100% of their students and 100% were accepted in colleges this year. A school started by 2 black men. They’re covered by all major media, never saw a word from the President or First Lady. Maybe now you know who you voted for. Would that be acceptable from any other President or First Lady?

  • Guest1234

    What is it with these Obamas? They are totes off-the-mark when it comes to addressing young african-americans. It’s really strange, too.

    I, too, cannot get past the extraordinary hypocrisy of cozying up to Jay-Z and Beyonce then, in going around telling young, black, indebted college grads that they need to “do better.” What the heck does that mean? And what policies have the administration put forth to help young professionals? They prattle on and on about how kids need to study STEM subjects, but how do they back that up? They don’t!!!! WTF?!?!

    Up until now, I’ve tried not to jump on the “condescending Obama” bandwagon, but damned if they’re not trying HARD to fit the bill. This lecturing to EDUCATED black folks is just kind of bizarre. Why would a bunch of COLLEGE GRADUATES think that studying is “acting white?” If they thought that way, they wouldn’t be sitting there with a cap and gown accepting their COLLEGE DIPLOMAS, LADY!!!! Honestly. On what planet does a room full of college grads need to be admonished to take their studies seriously? Duh! They’re not children. AND they’ve ALREADY DONE THAT! What the heck is she even talking about? I don’t think Bowie State has major courses of study in “rapping” and “balling.” So, why is she telling COLLEGE GRADUATES who have already chosen and specialized in fields of study that don’t include rappin’ that they should not seek to become rappers? DUH!!!! They’ve ALREADY DONE THAT!!! You can’t graduate unless you major in something, and last I’ve checked Bowie state doesn’t have a rap department.

    I get the message she’s trying to sell, but how has it not occurred to her that the message doesn’t apply to this crowd? On what planet does it make sense to treat these young EDUCATED folks like that while allowing Beyonce to read her ignorant a$$ letter on your campaign trail? SHE’S the one who is damn-near illiterate. Why is SHE somebody to look up to, and college graduates folks to condescend to? I just don’t get it. It’s not a good look for the Obamas. Not at all. I don’t like it one bit.

    They’re feeding into an insidious and disgusting stereotype that NO MATTER WHAT BLACK FOLKS DO, we’re just a bunch of simple-minded fools who want to rap and booty-shake for a living. Even black college grads aren’t worth simple respect from these folks. Instead, they wag their fingers, treating them like ignorant kids instead of the accomplished scholars and young professionals they really are. Barack and Michelle have made it perfectly clear that when they look at black folks, all they see are a bunch of stereotypes. I expected much better from the prez and 1st lady. There’s nothing worse than when black folks believe the racism and perpetuate it. I’m just seriously disgusted.

  • KKay

    The Obamas are politicians first and foremost. It was mutually beneficial relationship everyone involved. The Obamas got money and campaigning from Jay and Bey, and Jay and Bey got to hang out with the most powerful couple on the planet and garner more respectability and worship. Everyone knew their roles and it was played masterfully.

  • Humanista

    Now, Mrs. O is awesome, but I guess I can’t understand the point of giving college grads the “all these people that look like you wold rather ball than go to college”…well, yes, but all these people sitting in front of you not only went to college, but finished.

    So, unless this was in the context of “you did it! keep doing it! continue to be an inspiration for people that look like you!”, thank you, and good-bye.

  • KGA25

    Its obvious that none of you read whole transcript of her speech. She was talking about younger children, not the graduates themselves. She said wants the graduates to go out an inspire/help the generation behind them. That they are NOT the negative stereotypes shown in the media.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    have the obamas EVER given any ‘tough love’ to any white people?

  • Anthony

    The answer is either no or hell no, depending on the topic.

  • The Other AJW

    The won’t because to them ( just like a whole hell of alot of other black folks) think whites s#$t don’t stink & that they are perfect people with it all together.

  • Pseudonym

    Oooooo! Good point!

  • Pseudonym

    Their relationship w/ Jay-Z and Beyonce is just weird.

  • vonmiwi

    I’m sending this link to my sister, who was at her Alma mater to hear Mrs. Obama speak. I hope she leaves a wonderful comment to refute the Obama haters and the pc committee in there quest for perpetual victim-hood.

  • Joy

    Obviously most people on this blog didn’t hear, or read Michelle’s entire speech (she didn’t focus on one thing). I for one am glad that her, and the President made the kind of speeches they did; and included the remarks they did.. Someone needed to say what was said….that overall a lot of black men need to do bettter on many accords, and that young kids should stop focusing so much on becoming ballers. One (1) person in a million becomes a professional baller, and 80% to 90 % of the time when we ask a young person what they want to be they say a NBA star. Like it or not, it’s an unrealistic goal. There is nothing wrong with encouraging our kids to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, electricians, tech specialists, etc

  • Joy

    Kem: Did you hear her entire speech?

  • Joy

    L: So you should have voted for Romney, and see how far that would have gotten you.

  • Joy

    Tonton: “not even gving that message to the ones that need it”….what do you expect them to do; go give that speech on a corner on the South side of Chicago?

  • Tam

    Who cares what your sister thinks? She is not the barometer of what others find offensive or inappropriate .

  • ThinkPositive!

    What do you say to likes of Jay Harris? The kid gave up a full scholership to MSU to persue rapping. What do you say to kids like him? The focus has been changed and it needs to be addressed. Why not the person that most people listen to and admire?

  • http:tontonmichel.tumblr.com Tonton Michel

    How would you suggest to reach the ones who need to hear it.

  • Guest1234

    Then maybe she should kick it with more doctors, lawyers, engineers, electricians, tech specialists, etc… instead of shoving misogynistic black-community-degrading rappers and blond-wig-waving illiterate booty-shakers before the public as “friends.” It seems that her actions are in COMPLETE opposition with her words. That’s what makes this so sickening to me, anyway.

  • KGA25

    Her “real friends” are doctors and lawyers.

  • Tam

    Wrong.
    He made a rap video and his scholarship was TAKEN. That’s different than giving it up.

  • MommieDearest

    @Melanie:

    “The speech was inappropriate for the occasion and condescending for an audience of college graduates. It may have been more appropriate for a middle school commencement ceremony. The people in that audience had already demonstrated a commitment to education and aspiring beyond stereotypes. It would be nice if tthe FLOTUS and POTUS stopped talking down and chiding the audience whenever they speak to black people.”

    THIS!

    Just congratulate the college graduates on a job well done and tell them to go out and conquer the world. Why waste words telling them something that obviously does not apply to their situation.

    I tend to agree with Anthony:

    “The truth is that when the Obama’s make that sort of speech it is really for white people.”

  • Guest

    You are right.

  • GUEST

    Missy you are right. I mean these are college graduates. This says something in itself. There needs to be an op-ed story asking the question, why does the POTUS & FLOTUS appear in front of Black college educated young people & speak to them as if they perpetuate every stereotype of Black Americans. Isn’t she the one hanging out with Beyoncé.

  • GUEST

    We would have been better off, KNOW WHY? As Black Americans we would have had no CHOICE but to pull together as a group, whether we liked each other, or not. Sometimes persecution & pain have to move a people together to do something significant for itself.

  • Deal-n-Truth

    Undoubtedly you did. Hurt dogs will always holler! Stop whining like a bunch of typical victims all of the time and learn to accept the truth for what it is. Speak Mrs. Obama!

  • vonmiwi

    @Tam
    I normaly just leave a comment and move on, but I didn’t say my sister was a barometer to anything. She attended the event and I guess she’s like me in the sense that we’re bold enough to listen instead of looking for or finding the negative in every thing. It is what it is and some black folks hate to hear the truth, especially when the Obama’s say something.

  • GUEST

    All she had to say is that these college graduates are an inspiration & role model to the younger generation behind them. Would she tell white students that auditioning for American Idol is a one & million pipe dream for many? You know all of those white, latinos, asians, that go on American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, Survivor, reality shows, etc, all trying to win money, become famous, or wanting to be a so-called Star. You know white boys love going pro in baseball, soccer, etc.

  • GUEST

    @vonmiwi this is for your comment here & below. This has nothing to do with about hearing the truth or playing the perpetual victims. These people are college graduates so obviously they are not playing the victim since many or some of them probably have student debt out the ying-yang. She should have said something about what this administration plans on doing about creating an environment for job creations or entrepreneurship. But guess what she can’t because this administration doesn’t plan on doing anything about job creation. For you Obama Kool-Aiders, The Mis-Education of The Negro-Carter G. Woodson is for you.

  • Tam

    Hey joy the election is over. The Romeny angle has reached it’s expiration date.

  • Lynne

    I know some people who attended the graduation. These are highly intelligent and accomplished people, and they were disappointed with her speech.

    For some reason, it seems blacks are to be scolded. You see this all the time among black public figures who’ve done well. Did these young people really need what could be perceived as scolding? These are college graduates, not a bunch of kids in a Scared Straight program.

    Michele Obama even went into that goddamn “acting white” diatribe. When are older blacks going to put down Bill Cosby’s talking points? (Please don’t get me started on that hypocrite.)

    I love, love, love the points journalist Alyssa Rosenberg made. Black underachievement may have very simple reasons related to POLICY and LACK OF ACCESS TO INFORMATION AND RESOURCES, and not ONLY the personal failings of blacks. Listening to Rosenberg’s points could be much more helpful than regurgitating the same crappy rhetoric that black academia has been trumpeting for several decades.

  • Anthony

    Yes, making a speech to brothers on the corner in the South Side would send the message that he cares.

  • Margaret

    When I saw the term baller I didn’t automatically think of an athlete.

    Based on my limited knowledge of current slang, a ‘baller’ is someone who does whatever he/she does in a big way. He’s successful at what he does and he celebrates it by living large – that could be the way he/she spends money on cars, clothes, meals, entertainment, etc.

    I think what is most important about the First Lady’s speech is to impress upon the graduates to think deeply about what they want to do and make a strong commttment to that vocation. Not to be motivated simply by income or fame.

  • Guest1234

    @KGA

    I doesn’t matter who her “real friends” are if the American youth never see it. They see her kicking it with the same uneducated ignorant entertainers she’s warning them off of. How does that make any sense?

  • Missy

    Why do people act like black children are any different than any other children? Do people think there aren’t teens out there who want to be Selena Gomez and Justin Beiber? Why is it when black kids do this it’s some kind of self sabotaging pathology? This is what children do, I did it and probably you did too. I find it less problematic if a 14 year old wants to be a singer like Beyonce than a 40+ college graduate and wife the the PONTUS saying it. People think ALL white children are at home dreaming of being Larry page? Children, pre-teens and teens dream about being famous and then WE grow up.

  • My thoughts

    Ok. Both speeches by Mr. Obama and Mrs. Obama are EXACTLY what the black community needed to hear.

    It is tough love, but it needs to be heard. And I personally think these are thoughts and conversations that they often have. Similar to other black people, it is just not widely discussed. During these commencement speeches, it had provided both of them an opportunity to address what are obvious problems within the black community.

    Mr. President was right on target, the Elitist (by having degrees, owning a business) – we are equipped to share our experiences or providing the knowledge of what it takes to obtain the next level of success. Notice: Other ethnicities are quick to assist one another (within their group).

    The black community is too divided nowadays with preconceived notions to cooperate [collectively]. The Elitist oftentimes, assume the disadvantage does not have desires to achieve beyond their current circumstances. The act of service or providing insight is more so a waste of time rather than an investment to the poor. President Obama was just merely reminding the Morehouse graduates not to gravitate to that side. Give back to the community. And at the end of day, their services are needed in other areas as well to create a more cohesive society to live in. However, start at home, someone came before you to open doors for you, so you do the same.

    While at the same time, the disadvantage, [NOTHING IS GOING TO BE GIVING TO YOU]. Excuses do not feed you or create opportunities for you. I won’t even refer to that as tough love; it is just the plain ole truth. It is clear that some people can help themselves and stop depending on others or an agency. If anyone is a tax-payer (elitist or not), you become tired of seeing this. Yes, unemployment is high for the black community. Volunteer while in between jobs; enroll in classes, and just something to improve your own circumstances. While waiting on others, you’re falling behind which reflects on the entire community.

    Now – Mrs. Obama:

    Her speech was just misplaced, not a stereotypical shot. This is the type of speech that needs to be spoken in churches, black youth groups, black student unions or any other black organization. These students at Bowie State have already obtained the level in which the remaining youth/parents should FOCUS upon. So, inspire these current graduates to remain on a great path AFTER graduation – because (different) challenges are in store.

    But for the up and coming youth (the younger they are), anyone can see they are playing in a hazard construction zone. Different careers other than sports and becoming an entertainer are needed. If this generation does not desire to become a rapper, it is a professional athlete. In the South, if football is not KING, basketball is. A career of being a rapper is not as prevalent. With this noticeable shift in our youth’s education, what is appearing as stereotypical is the truth. Not collectively, however, it is becoming too normalized. For the amount of black youth that exist, there are way too many not pursuing other fields or a higher education.

    However, the area in which concerns me the most are the behind the scenes reasons. Yes, some parents encourage their kids to pursue other dreams beside the latter. As one example, Athletic Recruiters are similar to a bloodhound. Once they sense the agility, height, and the appropriate body mass, these black young boys are recruited in middle school (8th grade). A chance for a fully-paid education and one day to make millions – it becomes more of an attractive option especially if you don’t have the resources. Federal cut backs in music programs (this could have been another alternative). Parents having to sign for co-parent loans – denied. Grants are not enough- if no scholarship to pay for school – our youth are unable to attend. If any education is pursued at all, the athletic and entertainment careers seem more accessible, fun (getting paid) and obtainable. Our youth see the majority of this mostly.

    Overall, I think Mrs. Obama meant well. Really, this is a parent’s problem, school district problems (some financially challenged schools don’t offer extra-curriculum programs), state and federal problem, and some of these youths are just non-productive. But it wasn’t these graduates.

    I appreciate both speeches. Again, I just think Mrs. Obama’s speech would have been more beneficial at Black Organizations. That is where we can come together to find out how to motivate the parents to do better with our youths and to encourage our youths to do better or have the desire. Some youths don’t how to excel beyond their environments. They may need to be told thru another method that they don’t have to settle for just becoming an athlete or an entertainer. Sad, but of course the school system won’t tell’em. Some teachers don’t expect anything more out of our youth.

    Final thought: If willing, the best influences for these youths to pursue other career paths (besides the parents) are other professional athletes and/or entertainers. If we had more to speak out to pursue other careers, I think it would make an unimaginable impact.

  • Joy

    Guest: So you believe the media hype that they are running buddies with The Carters. Delusional at it’s best

  • http://gravatar.com/missinformation7 Ms. Information

    Contrary to what the Obamas think, all of us are not sitting around complaining about being black…some of us are proud and take personal responsibility regardless to perceived restrictions placed on us because of our color.

  • Joy

    Guest: Neither The Obamas, or anyone else is stopping anyone from becoming an entrepreneur. Anyone is free to follow their dreams, and passions (and stop depending on someone else to do it for them)

  • Joy

    I’m trying to figure out why (some) people are always trippin’ on what “white” people do, say, and think? White people are not a litmus test for my life (actually I couldn’t care less what white people do, say, or think). To me it’s a sign of insecurity to constantly focus on white people.

  • Joy

    Tonton: Where’s their parents? Guidance should come FIRST, and foremost from parents. Where’s the local politicians, community leaders, clergy, high school guidance counselors, local NAACP chapter, Urban League, etc. ??

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    @joy : clearly you did not understand the comment

  • Joy

    Anthony: Do the PARENTS of kids on the corner of Chicago care? Where’s the parents responsibility? People need to raise their own kids, and make sure they go in the right direction in life. The President can’t police every street corner, in every city of America, and it’s totally unrealistic to think that he SHOULD or CAN

  • Joy

    KKay: Thank you so much for bringing this up. Intelligent people know the deal (that The Obamas invited Beyoncé to perform because they know that a lot of young people follow The Carters’ every move). Brilliant marketing move on the Obama administrations’ part to bring young people into the fold of politics. Intelligent people also know that The Obamas don’t REALLY hang out with the Carters, i.e., go out to dinner, talk on the phone, etc.

  • Joy

    @GUEST: So who, or what is stopping black people from coming together, and doing something significant?? Excuses, and excuses.

  • http://nerdstradamas.wordpress.com nerdstradamas

    That was a great quote.

  • http://nerdstradamas.wordpress.com nerdstradamas

    Like times 1000

  • http://tontonmichel.tumblr.com/ Tonton Michel

    I agree, I am not saying it’s her job, but she is the one volunteered her 2 cents. And if she is going to do that say it to the ones who need to hear it, to their face.

  • talaktochoba

    what is so wrong here? it is no great secret that the vast majority of HBCUs have their own siddidy culture grads cling to like their respective fraternities, one that has taken on all the negative aspects of their larger white counterparts–bedhopping to get ahead, gang-like fraternities that like the equally imperiously tribal sororities feel themselves impregnable to the rules and customs “ordinary” students they look down their noses upon are condemned to live by, athletes held completely unaccountable for what would be the most brazen of crimes outside of their campus never-never-land (date rape, anyone?), etc.–whilst the administrations do their level best to imitate the under-the-table antics of major universities to produce more revenue for the college, graduation rates be damned, just gain tenure, baby…

    and so because the First Lady hints at this, she is condemned?

  • Travis

    As a black responsible black man I have to give a great big ole’ “BUCK you OFAMA… and you as well Michelle!!!” When it came to the Wall Street banks did he preach accountability. Hell no!!! He gave them a fat $800,000,000,000 check with no strings attached. Also, when a few select members of congress moved to introduce articles of impeachment against George Bush and members of his cabinet for supporting and well as committing war crimes in violation of international laws, did Obama preach personal accountability then. Hell no!!! He actually discouraged it in that example. Why is that the only msg. he has for his black voting constituents?!?!?! Is it because the speech was NOT to appease his black listening audience but was instead to reassure his financiers that he knows who butters his toast. Some of you black folks are dumb ass hell not to mention politically immature to not grasp from where Obama is coming!

    Why does Obama only have “tough love” for us and we drink that shit down like it’s delicious?!??!?! “… what wrong wit dat! he told da trufe didn he?”

  • http://gravatar.com/childrenandliterature mikki

    Agree totally when asked what she would do other than be the First Lady Mrs. Obama said that she wished to be like Beyonce. I was with them but now I feel like they have had way too much kool-aid. Talk to me about the debt incurred by college grads and how someone who becomes a teacher can pay it back Obama…crickets.

  • Thinkpositive!

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