U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan returned to the small Georgia town where his skin color once kept him out of high school and urged students to strive for excellence no matter what the odds.

"Aspire to be all things that you can be, not just in terms of a successful career, but in terms of becoming a successful human being," Sullivan told 500 honors graduates of Early County High School in Blakely on Sunday.Sullivan was barred from Blakely High School in 1946 when it was all-white. His family sent him and his brother to all-black public schools in Savannah and Atlanta.

Sullivan said he and his brother were fortunate their parents sent them out of town to continue their education. "It was very important for what we have been able to achieve," he said.