The First Lady on the Power of Education

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited sophomores at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, DC. The First Lady’s remarks continued to expand her focus on issues of youth empowerment and education, in particular working to achieve the President’s “North Star” Goal.

You see, when Barack came into office,” she said, “one of the very first things he did was to set what he calls a North Star goal for America – that by the year 2020, the year that you all will be graduating from college, our country will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

In her remarks, the First Lady spoke directly to young people about committing to their education so that they can create a better future for themselves, their communities, and their country. She also shared some of her personal academic experiences to illustrate her belief that circumstances do not define your future, but rather your attitude.

“My parents didn’t have much money, and they never went to college themselves, but they had an unwavering belief in the power of education, and they always pushed me and my brother to do whatever it took to succeed in school.”

“I knew that the first thing I needed to do was to have the strongest academic record possible… so I worked hard to get the best grades that I possibly could in all my classes.  I got involved in leadership opportunities in school, where I developed close relationships with teachers and administrators. I knew I needed to present very solid and thoughtful college applications… so I stayed up late at night working on my college essays and personal statements.  I knew my parents would not be able to pay for all of my tuition… so I made sure I applied for financial aid on time.  And when I encountered doubters…when people told me that I wasn’t going to cut it… I didn’t let that stop me.”

After the First Lady’s remarks, she joined Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan for a conversation with sophomores, who represent the college class of 2020. BET moderators Jeff Johnson and Keshia Chante facilitated the discussion and encouraged students to discuss their goals and aspirations, challenges and concerns as they contemplate and prepare for higher education. The conversation was a listening session in which the First Lady and Secretary Duncan could hear first-hand the valuable perspective of these sophomores as they contemplate and prepare for higher education.


First Lady Michelle Obama greets students after participating in a conversation with the 10th-grade class at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C., Nov. 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

The First Lady and Secretary Duncan also shared a few resources to help students navigate the sometimes tricky college application process. They suggested exploring  to learn more about what it takes academically and financially to go to college. Other great resources include the College Scorecard and the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, tools that provide students and families with easy-to-understand information about colleges and institutions of higher education.  These tools help students choose schools that are well-suited to meet their needs, priced affordably, and consistent with their educational and career goals.

Tina Tchen is the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady


  1. I can imagine the first discussions that Secretary Duncan and President Obama had about how to improve education. Duncan says,”The first thing we do, let’s kill all the teachers”.

    I am sorry to hear Mrs. Obama ran into some teachers that discouraged her, but for every story like her’s, there are hundreds of students who can cite a teacher that inspired and encouraged them. In the beginning of her talk, Mrs. Obama perpetuates the idea that students are successful despite teachers. I suppose it happens, but I think the opposite is the norm.

    She says later that a student is more than his or her test scores. Someone should tell Secretary Duncan. My eight year old is being subjected to a near constant testing regime. Valuable contact time with her teacher gets sacrificed to useless testing. It’s anti-education, anti-teacher, and anti-student.

  2. Good day, Education is one of the most important things I agree, what about those with a disability, that get discrimated? They take out loans, they are told they will get the proper help they need, then some usless person that claims to be a special education employee is more unorganized then the student with the disablities? What happens when this student fails over and over again just hoping that some day they will get it? Then they give up and have all this debt and no education? What happens when they try to write to their local representive and they dont help them either? I am starting to wonder about the educational vaules in my area and have no one to help me understand how do you really get the help you need, how do you get those in a power full postion deglect you and now you feel like more of a failure then you allready do only now with a whole lot of debt.

    I know that the first lady is not going to be there to help me as much as I would love to let her know my education exsperience not with just myself but also with my children and other children with in the school district where we are from. They get away with it over and over again.

    Then we wonder why do we have such a high rate of disabled young people, just wasting away with no hope for their future even though they want to learn.

  3. i will be the only one out of my family to go to college neater one of my parents made it passed middle when i apply for colleges that really brings my chances down. I want to make something of myself and i want to encourage everyone they can keep pushing forward to their dreams .

  4. I always think it’s a great idea to visit students and give these kinds of talks because they really do encourage many young people who look up to people like Michelle Obama and others who have been in similar situations. I also agree that the plan for the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020 is probably not going to happen. Although, I mainly say that because Obama will not be president then and who knows if subsequent administrations will continue the effort. That being said, the same problems still and will continue to plague students nationwide: rising tuition and student loans being the most prevalent ones. More specifically, how rises in student loan interest rates are going to leave more people in debt longer. Nonetheless, higher education, I think, is still relevant and necessary in many sectors. I would have to add, though, that technology is going beyond a college education in many respects and promoting skills more than degrees. Just thought I’d put that out there.

  5. My name is Alexis and I am a student in teacher education in St. Louis and I am doing a research paper on education reform. While the goal of all students completing college by the year 2020 is highly unrealistic, I agree with First Lady Michelle Obama’s dedication to educational attainment for all students. However, the issue of educational achievement is not based solely on student motivation. Complex issues all interrelate to form achievement. For most students, the issue of college attendance is a lack of resources. The President’s focus needs to be more on equalizing educational opportunity rather than simply encouraging students to try hard. It’s important to provide federal funding for programs to equalize the differences among students. Early education programs such as Head Start, tutoring programs, more federal student aid and Pell Grant funds, and incentives to schools that admit minority students is key to helping students achieve at a higher rate.

  6. I am glad that Michelle Obama gave this speech. I definitely agree that working hard and staying motivated in high school are definitely important factors in a student’s ability to go to college.

    But there is definitely more to it than that. Although the FSA is doing good work in giving students who would otherwise be incapable of going to college a chance to do so, costs and legitimate concerns about student debt are true barriers to entry. Fortunately, according to a Reuters study published last month, 2013 has seen the smallest increase in public university tuition in 30 years. Hopefully this continues.

    I agree with ashleyw11 that high school college advisers are important. I know mine definitely helped me out in my college decision making process.

  7. A good education not only build an ability to earn our livelihood but it played a vibrant role in developing the complete over all personality of an human being All social problems are arises only because of lake of appropriate education in ancient India the master teaches his/her disciples how to be a good human being. The teaching not for unwanted control(As i have seen in some definition of modern education science ) over talents but to strength the sole of disciple and develop a humanistic approach. This type of education has ruined from the known society we must must learn the student how to think properly first then we are suppose to give then the load of syllabus. No teaching method should have any trace of selfishness,inequality on the basis of talent,marks,money,attendance etc,Remember one thing every child is unique and impotent every class must empower the student.
    Schools must be a pleas where one got relief from the problems of society and complex family.This can be helpful to solve various social challenges .

  8. I greatly respect the First Lady for promoting a higher education. So many people would have the ability to make life changes if they have the ability to go to college. I think what a lot of underprivileged young people do not understand is that it is feasible and they can go to school to further their education. I think a lot of it needs to start with high school advisors. These advisors should be seeking students out whom they think have what it takes to go to school, but wouldn’t otherwise do if the advisor didn’t reach out to them. Advisors, and high school teachers for that matter, should inform students of all of the financial aid and scholarships available, especially if your parents do not make much money. If this is too much to ask of advisors then programs should be developed in these lower income school districts to provide students with this information. This is a great starting point to push more young adults to further their education.

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