First Lady Michelle Obama Speaks on Expanding College Opportunity
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First Lady Michelle Obama Speaks on Expanding College Opportunity


Mrs. Obama:
Thank you. You guys rest yourselves. Thank you so much. It is really great to be
here today with all of you. We have with us today college
and university presidents; we have experts and advocates,
and civic and business leaders. And I want to thank all of you
for taking the time to be here today and for working every
day to help young people pursue their education and build
brighter futures for themselves and for our country. And I’d also like us to give
a really big hand to Troy for sharing that story. [applause] That’s pretty powerful stuff,
and presented so eloquently. I know yesterday I met
Troy — he was nervous. [laughter] I don’t really know
why you were nervous. You’re pretty awesome. Mr. Simon:
Thank you. Mrs. Obama:
Troy’s story reminds
us all of the limitless capacity that lies within all
of our young people no matter where they come from or
how much money they have. Troy is an example of
why we all should care deeply about this issue. And Troy, and millions
of others like him, are why I care so
much about this issue, and why in the coming years I’m
going to be spending more and more of my time
focusing on education. Because as everyone here knows,
education is the key to success for so many kids. And my goal specifically is
to reach out directly to young people and encourage them to
take charge of their futures and complete an education
beyond high school. And I’m doing this because
so often when we talk about education, we talk
about our young people and what we need to do for them. We talk about the programs
we need to create for them, about the resources we
need to devote to them. But we must remember that
education is a two-way bargain. And while there is so much
more we must do for our kids, at the end of the day,
as Troy described, the person who has the most say
over whether or not a student succeeds is the
student him or herself. Ultimately, they are the ones
sitting in that classroom. They’re the ones who have to set
goals for themselves and work hard to achieve those
goals every single day. So my hope is that
with this new effort, that instead of talking about
our kids, we talk with our kids. I want to hear what’s
going on in their lives. I want to inspire them to step
up and commit to their education so they can have opportunities
they never even dreamed of. I’m doing this because that
story of opportunity through education is the
story of my life, and I want them to know
that it can be their story, too — but only if they devote
themselves to continuing their education past high school. And for many students, that
might mean attending a college or university like the
ones many of you represent. For others, it might mean
choosing a community college. It might mean
pursuing short-term professional training. But no matter what
they do, I want to make sure that students believe that they
have what it takes to succeed beyond high school. That’s going to be my
message to young people. But here’s the thing: I know that that
message alone isn’t enough. Like I said,
this is a two-way street, and that means we
all have to step up. Because make no mistake about
it, these kids are smart. They will notice
if we’re not holding up our end of the bargain. They will notice if we tell them
about applying for college or financial aid, but then
no one is there to help them choose the right school
or fill out the right forms. They will notice if we tell
them that they’re good enough to graduate from college, but then
no college asks them to apply, no college invites them
to visit their campus. And so we’ve got to re-commit
ourselves to helping these kids pursue their education. And as you discussed
in your first panel today, one of the first steps is
getting more underserved young people onto college campuses. The fact is that right now
we are missing out on so much potential because so many
promising young people — young people like Troy who have the
talent it takes to succeed — simply don’t believe
that college can be a reality for them. Too many of them are
falling through the cracks, and all of you know
that all too well. And that’s why so many of you
are already finding new ways to reach out to the underserved
students in your communities. You’re helping them navigate
the financial aid and college admissions process, and you’re
helping them find schools that match their abilities
and interests. And I know from my own
experience just how important all of that work is
that you’re doing. See, the truth is that if
Princeton hadn’t found my brother as a basketball recruit,
and if I hadn’t seen that he could succeed
on a campus like that, it never would
have occurred to me to apply to that school — never. And I know that there
are so many kids out there just like me — kids who
have a world of potential, but maybe their parents never
went to college or maybe they’ve never been encouraged to believe
they could succeed there. And so that means it’s our
job to find those kids. It’s our job to help them
understand their potential and then get them
enrolled in a college that can help
them meet their needs. But then we all know that just
getting into school is only half the story, because
once students are there, they have got to graduate. And that’s not always easy,
especially given what many of these kids are dealing
with when they get to campus. Just think about it. You just heard a
snippet from Troy. Just to make it to college,
these kids have already overcome so much — neighborhoods
riddled with crime and drugs, moms and dads who
weren’t around, too many nights when they
had to go to bed hungry. But as I tell these kids
when I talk to them, we can’t think about those
experiences that they’ve had as weaknesses — just the opposite. They’re actually strengths. In facing and overcoming
these challenges, these kids have developed skills
like grit and resilience that many of their peers
will never be able to compete with — never. And when they get
out in the world, those are the exact skills
they will need to succeed. And they will succeed. But imagine how hard
it is to realize that when you first get to college. You’re in a whole new world. You might have trouble making
friends because you don’t see any peers who come from
a background like yours. You might be worried about
paying for classes, and food, and room and board
because you have never had to set your own budget before. You might be feeling guilty when
you call home because Mom and Dad are wondering why you didn’t
get a job so you could help support their family. Those are the kinds of
obstacles these kids are facing right from day one. But let’s be clear —
all of that isn’t just a challenge for them. It’s a challenge
for folks like us, who are committed to
helping them succeed. And make no mistake about it,
that is our mission — not simply giving speeches
or raising money or hosting conferences, but to take real,
meaningful action that will help our young people get into
college, and more importantly, actually get their degree. And here’s the good news: Time
and again you all have shown that you have the experience,
the passion and the resources to help these young people thrive. For example, in recent decades,
you’ve realized that students from across the socioeconomic
spectrum have been coming to campus with more and more
issues like eating disorders and learning disabilities, emotional
challenges like depression and anxiety, and so much more. And luckily, you all have not
shied away from these issues. I’ve seen it. I worked at a university. And you haven’t said,
these aren’t our problems; we’re a university, not a
hospital or a counseling center. No, you’ve stepped up. And while there’s still work
left to do on these issues, you’re working every day to
support these kids through treatment programs and outreach
initiatives and support groups, because you know that these
issues have a huge impact on whether students can learn
and succeed at your school. So now, as you begin to see more
and more underserved students on your campuses, we need you to
direct that same energy and determination toward
helping these kids face their unique challenges. Now, fortunately, you’ve already
got the expertise you need to address these issues. And simply by building on what
you’re already doing best, you can make real
differences for these kids. And that’s what so many of
you are doing with commitments you’ve made here at this summit. For example, every school
offers financial aid services, but listen to what the University
of Minnesota is doing. They’re committing to expand
those services to include financial literacy programs to
help students and their families manage the costs of college. And every school has
advisors who desperately want their students to succeed. Oregon Tech is committing to
set up a text message program so that these advisors can connect
more easily with students who need some
extra encouragement or academic support. And every college has
orientation programs or learning communities to help students
transition to college. And many of the schools here
today are supplementing those programs by partnering with
organizations like the Posse Foundation so that underserved
students can connect and build a social network before they
even step foot on campus. And those were the types of
resources that helped a kid like me not just survive but thrive
at a school like Princeton. When I first arrived at school
as a first-generation college student, I didn’t know anyone
on campus except my brother. I didn’t know how
to pick the right classes or find the right buildings. I didn’t even bring
the right size sheets for my dorm room bed. [laughter] I didn’t realize those
beds were so long. [laughter] So I was a little overwhelmed
and a little isolated. But then I had an opportunity
to participate in a three-week, on-campus orientation program
that helped me get a feel for the rhythm of college life. And once school started, I discovered the
campus cultural center, the Third World Center,
where I found students and staff who came from
families and communities that were similar to my own. And they understood what
I was going through. They were there to listen
when I was feeling frustrated. They were there to answer the
questions I was too embarrassed to ask anyone else. And if it weren’t for those
resources and the friends and the mentors, I honestly don’t
know how I would have made it through college. But instead, I graduated
at the top of my class, I went to law school —
and you know the rest. [laughter] So whether it’s aligning with
an organization like Posse or offering a new advising
or mentoring program, or creating a central space
where students can connect with one another, you all can take
simple steps that can determine whether these kids give up and
drop out, or step up and thrive. And that’s not just good
for these young people, it’s good for your schools
— because if you embrace and empower these students, and if
you make sure they have good campus experiences, then
they’re going to stay engaged with your school for decades
after they graduate. They will be dressed
up in school colors at homecoming games. They’ll be asking
to serve on your committees and advisory boards. And they’ll be doing their part when fundraising
season rolls around. [laughter] So believe me, these will be
some of the best alumni you could possibly ask for, because
after everything these kids will have overcome to get into
college and get through college, believe me, they will have all
the skills they need to run our businesses and our labs, and
to teach in our classrooms, and to lead our communities. Just look at me, and look at
Troy and the countless success stories from the organizations
and schools represented here in this room. That’s how we will
win, this country. We will win by tapping
the full potential of all of our young people
so that we can grow our economy and move this country forward. And let me tell you that
is something that my husband understands deeply, because
his life story, just like mine, is rooted in education as well. And as President, that is was
drives him every single day — his goal of expanding
opportunity to millions of Americans who are striving
to build better futures for themselves, for their families
and for our country, as well. So now it is my pleasure
to introduce my husband, the President of the United
States, Barack Obama. [applause]

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