Michelle Obama to Students: Reach Higher

By Reyna Gobel

Speaking at a pep rally for high school students, the First Lady uses a personal story to emphasize the importance of higher education.

Community college administrators aren’t the only ones pushing for students to arrive on campus better prepared for the rigors of a college education.

Speaking to students as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s annual Back-to-School Bus tour that wrapped up last week, First Lady Michelle Obama weighed in on the subject of college readiness.

At a pep rally for students at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Obama said a guidance counselor once dissuaded her from applying to Princeton, where she graduated cum laude in 1985 before enrolling in Harvard Law School.

“They told me I would never make it there, that I was setting my sights too high — can you believe that?” Obama asked students. In comments recounted on the White House blog, the First Lady says she later used that discouragement as motivation.

“I focused on getting good grades. I focused on signing up for activities, lining up my recommendations from teachers and mentors. And in the end, I ended up showing that counselor just how wrong she was.”

Obama says she told the story to encourage students to take control of their future — and to seek motivation from those around them. The message dovetails with her national Reach Higher Initiative, which encourages students to pursue education beyond high school.

“I want you all to ask for help. Ask your teachers, your counselors, your coaches, your friends — I don’t care who it is,” Obama told students, adding, “You’ve got to keep asking again and again and again until you get what you need…You don’t take no for an answer. You keep going back in. That’s how you rally back from adversity.”

Obama said there are many routes students can take to reach their goals, including enrolling in community college. Her comments underscore the administration’s commitment to its “North Star” goal for education: to again make the United States the world’s No. 1 producer of college graduates. That’s a goal the American Association of Community Colleges supports.

Want to learn more about what community college leaders are doing to promote college readiness? Read this article in AACC’s Community College Daily. And download Empowering Community Colleges to Build the Nation’s Future: An Implementation Guide.

Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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