First lady Michelle Obama this week told sophomores at a District of Columbia high school about her journey to become the first in her family to go to college. She also challenged the students to do whatever it takes to continue their education after high school.
“At the end of the day, no matter what the president does, no matter what your teachers and principals do or whatever is going on in your home or in your neighborhood, the person with the biggest impact on your education is you,” said Mrs. Obama during a visit to Bell Multicultural High School. “It’s that simple. It is you, the student. And more than anything else, meeting that 2020 goal is going to take young people like all of you across this country stepping up and taking control of your education.”
Over the next few years, Mrs. Obama said she would continue sharing her story with high school students and the administration would work to help connect them with resources needed to succeed in college. The National Council for Community and Education Partnerships, which provides training and assistance to GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awarenss and Readiness for Undergraduate Program), issued a press release Monday saying that college access professionals welcomed news that Mrs. Obama will focus on encouraging more low-income students to obtain a college degree. The organization, however, didn’t have any specifics about the extent of her future involvement.
‘Nobody Was Going to Take My Hand’
Speaking at Bell Multicultural, the first lady said her message to students about taking responsibility for their education is rooted in her personal experience.
In her remarks, she spoke of taking a city bus for an hour to every day to school, where there were just a few guidance counselors for hundreds of students. There was no SAT prep, no tutoring or help with college applications, she recalled. Knowing her parents would not be able to pay for tuittion, Mrs. Obama said she made sure she applied for financial aid on time.
“That FAFSA form was my best friend,” she said.
When Mrs. Obama decided to her dream school was Princeton University, her teachers said she was setting her sights too high.
“They told me I was never going to get into a school like Princeton. I still hear that doubt ringing in my head. So it was clear to me that nobody was going to take my hand and lead me to where I needed to go,” she said. “Most importantly, when I encountered doubters, when people told me I wasn’t going to cut it, I didn’t let that stop me—in fact, I did the opposite. I used that negativity to fuel me, to keep me going.”
After reaching her goal of getting into Princeton, Mrs. Obama spoke of the challenge of adapting to college life and the perseverance it took to complete her degree.
“Getting into Princeton was only the beginning. Graduating from Princeton was my ultimate goal. So I had to start all over again, developing and executing a plan that would lead me to my goal. And of course, I struggled a little bit,” she said. “There were times when I felt like I could barely keep my head above water. But through it all, I kept that college diploma as my North Star.”
Mrs. Obama concluded with some advice for students.
“If you step up, if you choose to own your future and commit to your education, and if you don’t let anything stand in your way until you complete it, then you will not only lead our country to that North Star goal, but you will lead yourselves to whatever future you dream of.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.