Fourteen College Possible students got the surprise of a lifetime during a roundtable conversation about college in March.
As students from three different high schools were seated in a circle discussing the challenges of first-generation college students, a surprise guest joined them. The door opened and former first lady Michelle Obama walked in, followed closely by late night talk show host Conan O’Brien.
Students gasped while news cameras captured the moment. Mrs. Obama greeted the students with hugs and smiles and asked if she could join their conversation.
One student who got a seat next to the first lady was Milwaukee Collegiate Academy’s “DJ.” DJ was sitting with his back to the door when Mrs. Obama entered the room.
“The next thing I know, everyone’s face is brighter,” said DJ. He turned around and saw the former first lady in his high school common area. “I didn’t know what to think. I almost passed out to be honest. I thought ‘this can’t be real.’”
Media cameras clicked as Mrs. Obama talked about the doubts she had on her own college journey and students listened intently. After the cameras left, Mrs. Obama spent another 40 minutes with students, telling stories about her college experience and answering questions.
“You can’t define yourself by other people’s limited expectation of you,” she said, sharing a story of her own high school counselor telling her she wasn’t “Princeton material.” She went on to talk about how adults often under-estimate young people and that it was more fun to prove them wrong than to let them be right. Mrs. Obama’s message resonated with the students.
“There is so much self-doubt. [Mrs. Obama] is the reason I want to be a lawyer. I didn’t think I could but she put that attitude in my head — if you want something, go get it.”— Taylen, junior at Riverside University High School
Mrs. Obama encouraged students to own their own stories. “Your personal statements are powerful,” she said. “It’s your opportunity to tell people who you are, and telling that story is what will make you stand out.”
Lily, a junior at Riverside University High School and member of the softball team, was impressed at how personable the first lady was. “She was really interested in each of us,” said Lily. “It was very motivational and uplifting.”
The event was jointly coordinated with College Possible and Reach Higher, Mrs. Obama’s initiative to inspire students to complete their education past high school. The effort started while Mrs. Obama was in the White House and continues today.
It was a day to remember. Hearing directly from the First Lady is something that will stick with the students for years to come as they navigate their own college journeys.
“She cared,” said Timesha, another junior at Riverside. “She gave us advice on what to do and what not to do and she really helped us.”
The students left the event with signed copies of Mrs. Obama’s best-selling book Becoming, and tickets to her event later that evening.
Photos provided by Reach Higher.