Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a College Application Rally

December 05, 2014

MRS. OBAMA: Yes! (Applause.) You guys fired up? This is really exciting! (Applause.) Thank you, guys. You guys, sit down, rest yourselves. Wow. I don't know about you, but I think this is a really cool day, don't you guys? (Applause.) These are our seniors right here, right? I'm so proud of you all.

But let me start by -- I want to thank Gerson for that wonderful introduction, and we're so proud of him for sure. (Applause.) He represents everything we hope for all of you, so it's been an honor to meet him. I'm thrilled to be here.

I also want to recognize your outstanding head of schools, Karen Dresden -- yes, indeed. (Applause.) And your amazing high school principal, Belicia Reaves. (Applause.) And let me just thank everyone -- because you all are so lucky to have fantastic teachers, administrators, schools counselors, all the staff here. Let's give them all a huge round of applause -- (applause) -- for just creating this great environment for you.

And of course, I want to thank all of you, all you students for making me feel so welcome here at Capital City today.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You're welcome!

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Now, I don't know, maybe some of you -- maybe even the younger kids are wondering, well, why is the First Lady here? Why are all those people back there with those cameras from the TV and the newspapers -- what's going -- yes, wave to the people. (Laughter.) Your parents may be seeing you right now. Well, it's good to know that you're not shy. (Laughter.)

Well, let me tell you why we're all here. We're here today for one simple reason -- and I want the younger kids to understand -- this is a big day. This is huge. This is what you're working for. We're here today because the seniors at your school have and will walk across this stage and drop their college applications off in the mail -- yes, that's a big deal. That's huge. (Applause.) It is worthy of all of this fanfare. That's why I'm here.

This is important, and I want you all to know that -- for the seniors, we are so incredibly proud of you all. We are. I know that it took a lot to get to this day, and there is still more to do, right? I know that you spent thousands of hours preparing for this very moment. You stayed up late doing homework, right? Let me get an "amen." Yes! (Applause.) I know you all have been studying for those SAT, ACT, all that stuff -- oh, it's happening in my house, too. I know you spent a lot of time rewriting your essays, making them just right.

And I know that all of that hasn't been easy. I know that you all probably had plenty of moments when you were tired, frustrated, you just wanted to just stop, play some video games, take a nap, right? But here's the thing -- for all the younger students, this is where you want to be. All of these seniors, they stuck with it -- because you guys knew that you had big dreams for your futures. I hope that you know that you should have big dreams; that you know that here in America, no matter what you want to be –- whether it's a doctor, a teacher, a chef, or President of the United States -- you all have got to continue your education past high school. It's a must. It is not an option anymore. (Applause.)

And there are many ways to get it done, there are many ways -- whether that's going to a two-year college, a four-year college, going to a professional training school -- all of those options are available to you, and they are good and right.

But I can also tell you that higher education isn't just your ticket to a good job, look, it's also one of the most fun, exciting, challenging experiences that you are ever going to have in your life. College is a good thing, and you all should be excited about it. And I know this from my own experience.

See, I grew up like many of you. Neither of my parents and hardly many folks from the neighborhood I grew up in went to college. My family didn't have a lot of money. But like you seniors here at Capital City, I worked my heart out. (Laughter.) Some other things too, but we got cameras here. (Laughter.)

And I'm not going to lie, I did not love every class I took. I did not hit it off with every teacher I had. (Laughter.) Okay, just settle down. (Laughter.) But here's the thing -- and all the younger kids -- what I did do was I did my best on every single assignment that I had from kindergarten all the way to the 12th grade. I took my education seriously. (Applause.) And because of that, I had a solid foundation of knowledge and skills so that when I got to go to college, I was ready. I was prepared to take any class I wanted -– classes like African American history, religion, English literature.

And I tell my kids this all the time -- look, that's the beauty of higher education. High school is -- sometimes it's rough because there is so much that you have to do that you're not even interested in. You've just got to do it. That's what I struggle with my kids about -- you just got to do some stuff.

But in college, you can study the subjects you love. You can focus on the things that you want to do. If you want to be a computer technician, you can spend all day studying computers. If you want to be a poet, you can take poetry-writing classes. That can be your life in college. If you don't know what you want to be, you might just try a few different subjects. You can experiment in college. You can find your passion, your true passion. And many of you might get an associate's degree and go to a community college, and then decide to get a degree at a four-year college as well.

And the academics in college, that's just the beginning. Listen up -- I know, ignore them. (Laughter.) This is what I want you guys to remember: College also has all kind of really wonderful extracurriculars -- sports, drama, singing, clubs -- everything you can imagine -- debate teams. They've got all kinds of campus jobs so you can earn some money to help pay for your tuition. College is a good thing.

And in college and professional training programs, you really get to know your classmates. You'll get to hang out with them at the student center, study with them in the library -- because you will be studying, right? And some of you can even live with students in a dorm setting. Then you'll be able to just spend hours doing the things you -- talking and laughing and all that kind of stuff -- making new friends.

So make no mistake about it, I want you all to be exicted about college. College is -- it is a rare opportunity for you to be a young person with other young people, learning and growing. And I want you to see college in that way. Don't see it as a burden, see it as a privilege.

And you guys are so lucky to go to a school that starts preparing you for higher education from the day you start pre-K. You guys go to a school where the goal isn't just to finish 8th grade or 12th grade, or to have a cool boyfriend or girlfriend, or to wear the right shoes –- no, here at Capital City, every student is college material. That's why I'm here -- every student. (Applause.) The goal here at your school is for all of you all to get the best education possible.

And why we're here is because we believe that this should be a reality. This should be the model for every school in this country. Every young person in this country should have a team of teachers and counselors and school leaders who are pushing them, supporting them like you all have here at Capital City, because -- yes, yes! (Applause.) That's right. Because we all know the difference that this can make in a student's life.

And I got to meet one of your classmates just before I walked in, and I learned about his story -- Miguel Portillo, who's a senior here at Capital City. (Applause.) He gave me one of your t-shirts with Obama on the back. (Applause.) I got a t-shirt. But one of my staff spent a lot of time with Miguel and learned about his story, which was compelling to all of us. I know Miguel is a representation of all of you. I could be up here telling all of your stories.

But Miguel's parents are immigrants from El Salvador, and they didn't have the chance to continue their education after middle school. But Miguel, he's got a 4.11 GPA -- (applause) -- which is -- for those of you who aren't good at math, that's literally higher than an A average. And he's now on track to be your class valedictorian and to become the first in his family to graduate from high school and to go on to college. (Applause.)

When we asked Miguel how he achieved so much, these were his words -- this is a quote, this is you talking -- he said, "Being a scholar at CCPCS makes you feel like you are part of a community that is always pushing you to go above and beyond." He said, "If you have self-discipline and are self-motivated, you will be successful." Was he right?


MRS. OBAMA: Did he get that right? (Applause.)

And that's really the one message I have for you all today. I want you all to work -- all of the students here to work as hard as these seniors have worked. You hear that, younger students? I want you all to imagine yourselves up on this stage one day -- this is going to be you -- on your way to college or really great things. You all have so have so much to offer. And the education you're getting here at Capital City, well, you have everything you need to follow every last one of your dreams. And I for one can't wait to see everything you all are going to achieve in the years ahead.

So I'm proud of you all. I'm happy to be a part of this day. I feel privileged to be here with you guys. I want to thank your teachers and your counselors and your parents, your families -- everyone who helped you reach this day.

The work is just beginning, seniors, okay? It is about hard work. College will not be easy. It wasn't easy for me. And it's going to be scary, okay? But life is scary. And just remember, failure is a part of success. There is no one who has done anything great who hasn't failed, and failed big -- including me and the President of the United States.

So do not be afraid to fail. The challenge will be: What do you do after you fail -- do you get up? How resilient are you? How much grit do you have? How can you push through the hard times? That's what's going to separate you out. It's not the A, it's what's in here, all right? I know you all can do this. If I can be here -- and I am you -- you can be me one day, easy. (Applause.)

So with that, it is my pleasure to invite the rest of the senior class to come on up and mail their applications in. You guys, thank you so much. God bless you guys. Come on, seniors. Come on up. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a College Application Rally Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321929

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives