College & Workforce Readiness

Michelle Obama: Presiding Over a Much-Expanded ‘College Signing Day’

By Catherine Gewertz — April 30, 2018 2 min read
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Michelle Obama may have left her post as first lady, but she’s still serving as cheerleader-in-chief for students’ college dreams. On Wednesday, she’ll anchor the fifth annual “College Signing Day,” a nationwide event that will include more than 2,000 rallies.

Obama will attend the signing day in Philadelphia, along with thousands of high school students and expected celebrities such as actor Robert DeNiro and DJ Questlove. This year, events are scheduled in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and in Rwanda and Jamaica, according to Eric Waldo, who helped Obama launch her signature college-access initiatives during her years in the White House.

Waldo continues to oversee that work, and it has relocated to Civic Nation, located a stone’s throw from the White House. The nonprofit houses a suite of projects aimed at improving education and engagement, including Mrs. Obama’s “Reach Higher” initiative, which encourages students to pursue education after high school.

Michelle Obama and her brother were the first in their family to go to college, and through Reach Higher, she’s made a point of trying to connect with first-generation college students.

Civic Nation also oversees “Better Make Room,” an offshoot of Reach Higher that focuses on publicizing the stories of high school and college students, and “Up Next,” which texts 100,000 students—at current count—to remind them to tackle key tasks related to college, such as filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or registering for college-admissions exams.

College Signing Day was designed to celebrate students’ college plans, the same way athletes are celebrated when they announce where they’ll play in college.

In a video scheduled for release on Wednesday, Mrs. Obama says her college experience paved the way for her to become a lawyer, nonprofit leader, hospital executive and first lady.

“I know that your college degrees will do the same for all of you, setting you up to lead the life of your dreams and succeed in whatever you wish to do,” she says. “So I hope you all are excited about what lies ahead. College will be hard work, but I know you all are ready. Trust me. You got this. And I’m going to be rooting for you every step of the way.”

Obama’s continued work on college-access issues comes as no surprise. At last year’s MTV-sponsored signing day in New York City, where she appeared in jeans and a Princeton T-shirt, she warned everyone that she’d keep supporting the cause after she left White House.

She’s kept up the messaging through Twitter, too, noting recently that she is in “awe” of students with college dreams.

Obama has been a steady and strong advocate for school counselors, too. In a symbolic choice, she chose a gathering of counselors for her farewell remarks as first lady. Wiping away tears, she called them “heroes” in the lives of students.

Photo: First lady Michelle Obama hosts the 2016 College Signing Day in New York. --Mary Altaffer/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.