How Michelle Obama Aims to Inspire Millions of Students to Go to College

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Last week, Michelle Obama welcomed 140 college-bound students to the White House for the “Beating the Odds” Summit, an important part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, which aims to “inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school.”

The main goal of the summit was to bring together a wide range of communities – including urban, rural, foster, homeless, immigrant, and special needs – and celebrate these up and coming students’ accomplishments, while providing them with tips and resources to better prepare them for when they step on campus this fall.

At the center of the event was a panel moderated by E! News co-anchor Terrence Jenkins that featured Michelle Obama, the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and rapper Wale. (You can watch the panel conversation in the video below.)

Commenting on the fact that she had parents who gave her the gift of education, Obama told the audience that, “I think about the millions of kids just like me, who don’t get that encouragement but have the same skills and ability. Part of what I want to do through ‘Reach Higher’ is to make sure that young people like you all own that future; that you don’t listen to the doubters; that you figure out how to make your own path; that you understand that hard work is at the key to everything that you’re going to do; and that you make sure that you finish your education past high school.”

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One of the featured panelists was Manuel Contreras, a rising senior at Brown University, son of two Mexican immigrants, and co-founder of 1vyG, an organization that strengthens and empowers a first-generation college student network. On the day of the summit, the White House released a letter Manuel wrote addressing students around the country to share his story and inspire people who, like him, had to face substantial challenges and “beat the odds.” Here is that letter:


When I stepped onto Brown University’s campus for my first semester, I wasn’t ready.

I’m the son of two Mexican immigrants, and the first in my family to go to college. During my freshman year, though, I felt surprisingly out of place — I had worked hard to get there, but so many of my classmates came from wealthy families, were better-read, and seemed more prepared. And at a few points, I felt like I didn’t actually deserve to be at Brown.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I’m now a rising senior, ready to get my diploma. Because I was able to connect with other people who had shared my experience and gotten through it, as well as professors and advisors who went out of their way to help me, I’ve learned how to feel comfortable in the uncertainty.

That’s why I’m at the White House today for the First Lady’s “Beating the Odds” summit — an event that will take a look at how we can help more students who are just like me successfully transition to college and give them the tools and resources they need to finish their higher education.

At the summit, First Lady Michelle Obama will host more than 140 college-bound students from across America. These students come from all walks of life — urban, rural, foster homes, homeless, special needs, and other underrepresented areas.

But they all have one thing in common: They’ve all overcome substantial challenges and obstacles to get through high school and make it to college.

For every student who’s made it onto a college campus, though, there are far too many others who just don’t have the support and the tools they need to get to the next level.

As the First Lady said earlier this year, “We simply cannot afford to lose out on the potential of even one young person. We cannot allow even one more young person to fall through the cracks.”

So let’s do everything we can to prevent more kids from falling through the cracks. All too often, you hear the phrase, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Let’s do everything we can to make that “way” possible for more kids across our country.


Images Courtesy of and Copyright © 2015 by The White House


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