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The First Lady Holds Prep Rally to Encourage Higher Ed Preparation

First Lady Michelle Obama kicks off the Department of Education's back-to-school bus tour at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta.
Students at Booker T. Washington High School Listen to First Lady Michelle Obama

Students at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta listen to First Lady Michelle Obama speak on preparing for higher education. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education by Joshua Hoover.

First Lady Michelle Obama was at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Ga., yesterday, to help kick off the Department of Education’s annual back-to-school bus tour, and to encourage students to take charge of their futures and complete an education beyond high school as part of her Reach Higher initiative.

Booker T. Washington High School opened its doors in 1924 and was the first public high school for African-Americans in Georgia. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is among the school’s graduates. The First Lady began her visit by joining Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for a quick stop at a college fair, and to listen to students talk about their experience in searching out schools and getting help from their counselors.

First Lady Michelle Obama greets a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta

First Lady Michelle Obama hugs a student during a college fair at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education by Joshua Hoover.

“Everything you are doing in school right now is critical to the rest of your life,” the First Lady told the students during the “Prep” rally that followed the college fair.

Completing high school is not the end but the beginning of your life’s journey. It’s just the beginning. In today’s world, in order to compete in an ever-globalizing economy, you’ve got to continue your education after you graduate from high school. And fortunately, there are many paths that you can take –- whether that’s a professional training program, a four-year school like Georgia State or Emory or Clark Atlanta, or a community college like Atlanta Metro State College.

But no matter where you go, the important thing is that you go somewhere. Because no matter who you are or where you come from, higher education is absolutely the best way you can take charge of your future. And there’s a lot you need to be doing right now to prepare yourself for those next steps.

The Reach Higher initiative’s goal is to inspire students to take charge of their own future and complete some type of higher education after high school. The First Lady is working to rally the country around the President's "North Star" goal — that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

During the rally, the First Lady talked about her own experience as a student.

I still remember how one of my high school counselors told me that I shouldn’t apply to Princeton. They told me I would never make it there, that I was setting my sights too high -- can you believe that? She told me, don’t bother.

But let me tell you something -- that stuck with me. It made me a little uncertain, it did. It threw me off a little bit. But let me tell you, it made me mad, too. But I didn’t let those emotions get the best of me. Instead, I focused on getting good grades. I focused on signing up for activities, lining up my recommendations from teachers and mentors. And in the end, I ended up showing that counselor just how wrong she was.

She acknowledged that the students at Booker T. Washington face many challenges and that it will take grit and determination to overcome those obstacles and reach their goals.

"So if there is anybody telling you that you’re not college material -- anyone -- I want you to brush them off.  Prove them wrong."

I want you all to ask for help. Ask your teachers, your counselors, your coaches, your friends –- I don’t care who it is.

But here’s the thing about asking for help -- you can’t do it just one time. You’ve got to keep asking again and again and again until you get what you need. You keep asking. Do you understand me? You don’t take no for an answer. You keep going back in. That’s how you rally back from adversity. 

Read the First Lady’s full remarks and learn more about the Department of Education’s Back-to-School Bus Tour.