Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a FAFSA Workshop in Alexandria, Virginia

February 05, 2014

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, guys. Thanks for having me. (Applause.) You all rest. You have work to do. (Laughter.) I don't want you to be tired. I want you to get these forms done. But I am thrilled to be here.

I want to start by thanking Edom for that wonderful introduction. She is a true representative of what this amazing school has done for all of you. And you've got some pretty big shoes to fill, right, that you all -- I know it, I know it. I also want to thank your principal, Principal Maxey, as well as everyone here at T.C. Williams for hosting us here. You all, I told your administrators, you all are a true example of excellence. And that's one of the reasons why we wanted to be here.

You all are blessed to have this kind of support in the college process. And we know that there are other schools with great counselor programs and great principals and great faculty that are doing the same thing, but not every kid has that. And that's why we want to lift this up so that more kids around the country have the kind of support and know about the resources that you all have at your disposal. So I am thrilled to be here.

I also want to thank and recognize my good friend Arne Duncan -- Arne, where are you? Oh, he's so tall I rarely miss him. (Laughter.) But there he is. How are you, Arne? He has been doing a great job with the Department of Education, and I'm looking forward to partnering with him and his Department over the years to make sure that more and more of our kids in this country apply to college, can afford college. But we couldn't do it without his leadership, so let's give Arne another round of applause. (Applause.)

So I'm not going to speak very long today because, as I said, you guys need to get to work. But for those of you who might be wondering why the First Lady is here just to watch you fill out a computer form, it's because completing this form is a critical start to completing your education. And as the President and I will continue to stress over the next several years and beyond to young people throughout this country, completing your education –- whether it's a 2-year or 4-year college, or vocational program -– is the single most important thing you can do for your future. That is it. There's nothing that compares to getting your education.

With a good education, you can get a job that pays a decent salary or more. You can provide for your family, which is key. And you can become whatever you dream of becoming, which is the kind of freedom that I want all of you to have. And filling out the FAFSA form is one of the first and most important steps you can take in that journey, because it's no secret, as Edom mentioned and as all of you know, college can be expensive. And you all know that because, fortunately, everyone here is applying to college. And that's an important start.

And as you're waiting to hear back, you're starting to add up all the costs -- the tuition, the room and board, the books, the lab fees, all kinds of other expenses that I'm sure you never anticipated -- that was true for me. And you and your families I'm sure are wondering how you're ever going to pay for all of that. And unfortunately, too many students don't even bother to apply to college because they don't think they'll ever be able to afford it, so they just walk away from the opportunity without getting any advice or seeking any support.

And that's where the FAFSA comes in, because through FAFSA, the Department of Education provides more than $150 billion every year in low-interest loans, in grants that you don't have to pay back, and work-study programs that can help cover your educational expenses. And I was a work-study student all throughout college, and I had some great jobs. On top of helping you pay for school, work-study gave me some of the best experiences that I've ever had -- I ran a daycare center, I worked in an office. I did a lot of really interesting things in college, and it really made a difference. So work-study is something that's available if you fill out your form. And on top of that, a lot of states, colleges, and many private organizations use the FAFSA to determine whether you qualify for even more scholarships and financial aid beyond what the government provides.

And here's the thing: As you guys are demonstrating by being here today, FAFSA is quick, it's easy, it's free, and it can help you access the thousands of dollars to help you and your family pay for college. And that's true -- and this is important -- no matter who you are. You don't have to be the valedictorian. You don't have to major in a certain subject. You don't even have to be at the very bottom of the income ladder to receive the money. Almost everyone is eligible for some form of financial aid, and all you have to do to access that aid is fill out this one little form. It's so simple. (Laughter.)

So that's why I'm here. And that's my message for you and for students all across the country: Fill out those forms. Fill them out! (Laughter.) Don't leave money on the table. Parents, don't leave money on the table. Fill out the form.

And if you need help completing the FAFSA, there are plenty of resources you can turn to for support. I'm thrilled to be joined today by people from across the country who will be helping me spread that message and providing you with the kind of support that you need.

Get Schooled is a nonprofit designed to help more students graduate from high school and succeed in college. And their partner -- they're partnering with Viacom, and they're going to be promoting FAFSA on MTV, on BET, on Nickelodeon, and all over social media. So this is the beginning of a big, huge campaign. We're starting here at T.C. Williams -- isn't that cool? Right here. (Applause.) And they're also creating a package of online resources to help students prepare for college.

And Google is going to partner with GetSchooled.com to use the Google Helpouts platform to connect students and families with experts who can give one-on-one FAFSA advice. So you don't have to do this alone. Even parents who might be intimidated by this process, you don't have to do this alone. There are resources -- people who will be available to help you with -- your child walk through this process.

On top of all that, leading organizations like the American School Counselors Association, the National College Access Network, and so many other wonderful organizations are already working every day to help connect students like all of you with financial aid. And the Department of Education is doing their part as well. They've made the FAFSA form quicker and easier than ever before to fill out -- too bad that didn't happen about 50 years ago when I was going to school, but better late than never. (Laughter.) And they've loaded up their website -- the website is called StudentAid.gov. Want to make sure everybody -- StudentAid.gov. On that website there will be all sorts of checklists, sample forms, links to help students and parents connect to financial aid.

And finally, probably some of the most critical and accessible resources available to you students are the people you see every day -- the people right here in this room, for the students who are here. You have got your school counselors who are there to answer your questions. They're there leading FAFSA workshops just like this one. They are tracking you down and nagging you until you complete that form -- yay for nagging. (Laughter.)

And I just want to take a moment to congratulate the staff here at T.C. Williams for setting the goal of getting 100 percent of their seniors to complete the FAFSA form. And that's the kind of leadership that we hope that all schools will take; they will make this a goal. Because if students don't fill out this form, they can't even begin to access the resources that are already there. So, T.C. Williams, you all are leading the way. We are so proud of you. Again, that's why we're here.

And, last but not least, students, you've got your parents and your family members who are there to help you fill in those blanks on that form and guide you on your way as you get started on this journey. And I know that's not always easy for some families, especially for those who have never sent anyone to college before -- it could be intimidating -- or for those whose finances are really stretched, and they're wondering whether all the money is worth it. I mean, I know I found that with some of the kids I went to -- that I grew up with. Making that investment and understanding the importance of putting that -- down that money now, sometimes it's hard when you think, well, maybe it's better if your kids just get to work and not waste that time going to college.

But my hope is that every parent in America will understand that lifting up their kids and encouraging them to get an education is one of the best investments that they can make for their child. And that's one of the biggest gifts that I got from my parents. Because my parents didn't go to college, they didn't have a lot of money. And they didn't -- my mom still says she doesn't know who raised me -- which is really selling herself short, because she did a lot of raising. (Laughter.) But that's to say she didn't feel like she had a lot to offer me in this process.

But my parents, fortunately, were just like the parents who are here today. I mean, I applaud you all for taking this time and being here by your kids, and supporting them along the way. Like all of you, my parents were determined to do their part to ensure that I had all the support I needed to achieve my dreams. And even if it made them uncomfortable, they pushed outside of their comfort zones to help me figure this out. And for that, I will always be grateful. I wouldn't be here without that kind of support.

So, parents, thank you for being here. Keep it up. Be that example for other families that may be hesitant. And I want the students to know here today, from parents and school counselors, to Google and Viacom, to the President of the United States of America -- you all have got an army of supporters here to help you make college more affordable. So your job -- as my father used to say, you've got one job. (Laughter.) That's to work hard in school -- okay, maybe it's two -- work hard in school. But for today, your one job is to fill out that form. It will not take you long. You will see that here today.

And in a few months, when you start hearing back from colleges, you'll start getting information about what grants and loans you qualify for and what financial packages the schools are offering you. And then you have the power. Then you can make the choice that's right for you and your family, which is key. Picking a school means picking a school that you can afford and that's going to give you the best package. If you fill this form out, you will have the chance to see what options are available to you.

So I want you and young people across the country to get on this right now. Don't wait another minute. And then I want you all out there to tell your classmates, tell your friends, tell your Valentine sweetheart if you have one, tell somebody about this form and what they can do and all the resources that are available to them. Share this information with the people in your lives, because, as I said at the beginning, not every kid is blessed enough to have the resources that you all do. So your job is to share your blessings with others.

So with that, I'm going to stop talking and I'm going to come around and meet all of you. I'm going to hear about where you're thinking about going, where you're applying, how the form is. Hopefully, I'll meet your family members. You will introduce me to your parents, right? (Laughter.) Don't be shy. And I'm proud of all of you for taking this step and for being a role model for so many kids around this country.

So thank you again for everything that you are doing in your lives. And I look forward to seeing all the amazing things you're going to do with your futures. Thanks so much. Get to work. (Applause.)

* * * * *


Well, this was incredible for me, just to meet so many smart, focused, articulate, clear-eyed, clear-thinking young people with amazing counselors and parents. This was a dream room right here. And your stories are so diverse and so different and so compelling. This is why I'm still here -- and I was probably supposed to be gone an hour ago. (Laughter.)

But it has been a real delight for me, and an inspiration to meet you guys. And as I was telling Colleen, when you look around this room -- you know, we can't afford to lose any of your talent. We need you to be educated and prepared, because you all are awesome individuals who have the potential to do some amazing things for this country. So it's up to us to support you. It's up to us to find other kids like you who don't have the support.

And that's the thing I worry about -- all the thousands of kids, the millions of kids out here who don't know about FAFSA, who don't have great counselors, who don't know how to get an affordable college education. And that's why working with Arne, the President, myself, the corporate community, the nonprofit sector -- this is the best investment that we can make in the future of our country, is investing in you all.

So it has been a joy. Principal Maxey, you are -- you've got a great team out here. You have every reason to be proud.

So with that, I think we're going to take a picture? You guys want to come up? I'm assuming you've been instructed? Bring your forms! Bring your forms!

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a FAFSA Workshop in Alexandria, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321896

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