Michelle Obama Offers Options Students Wisdom and Inspiration

Rising college students from our Options Center enjoyed some words of encouragement from Michelle Obama at New York’s Public Theater on Friday.

"Look how good you look!" the former First Lady said, beaming at the crowd from the stage. "I couldn’t be more proud of you."

Obama began organizing College Signing Days as part of her Reach Higher initiative when she was still in office. This year’s featured 1300 events in all 50 states. The idea, she said, is to celebrate students getting into college the way we celebrate athletes signing on with sports teams.

"It’s got to be more important than going to the NBA. It’s got to be more exciting than getting a recording contract," she said. "We’ve got to celebrate students going to college bigger than we celebrate the Final Four or the Super Bowl!"

Dressed in a shirt from her alma mater, Princeton, Obama shared memories of her own struggles as a young black woman from the South Side of Chicago going to an Ivy League school. She urged the students to reach out to others Ð friends, academic advisers, teachers, and family Ð when they needed help.

"You’re not supposed to go through this on your own. Nobody gets through college or life on their own," she said. "Go out and build your base of support."

Four Options students attended with counselor Ivan Porto, right.

Most of all, she added, believe in yourself.

"If I can do it, you can do it," she said. "You got that!"

Our Options Center helps first-generation and low-income students get into college and graduate, providing services including financial aid, help with college applications and interviews, advising, campus visits and supplies. Options students have been invited to several Reach Higher events in recent years, including visits to the White House.

Obama was preceded onstage by a parade of athletes, comedians, actors and other celebrities.

Space Shuttle commander Mark Kelly recalled how his father responded when he first told him his dreams of being an astronaut.

"He said ‘Son, there aren’t very many of them and they’re really smart,’" Kelly recounted, sparking laughter from the crowd. "I’ll give you one reason I was able to do it: education."

NFL player Victor Cruz talked about his academic struggles at University of Massachusetts. As a student athlete, Cruz was sent home twice for his academic performance, but he kept going back and eventually graduated. He has since won a Super Bowl and appeared in the Pro Bowl Ð but he said his degree still what makes his mom proudest.

"My mother hangs my diploma on the wall. That’s the only thing she cares about," said Cruz.

Obama brought the celebration to a close by recognizing several students who overcame significant obstacles to enroll in college, giving each student a big hug as he or she walked across the stage.