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The White House
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release

Press Call on the First Lady's Reach Higher Public Awareness Campaign

Via Conference Call

3:08 P.M. EDT

MS. ADLER:  Thank you for joining this on-the-record conference call to discuss the First Lady’s upcoming launch of the Better Make Room campaign at the White House.  

We’re joined by Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Tina Tchen; Executive Director of Reach Higher, Eric Waldo; and the Editorial Manager at Vine, Ankur Thakkar.  If you’d like to receive guidance and factsheets about the launch, please send an email to  

I’m going to hand it over to Tina, Eric and Ankur in one second.  Just so you all know, this call is on the record but embargoed until 12:01 a.m. on Monday, October 19th.  And with that, I’ll turn it over to Tina.

MS. TCHEN:  Thank you, Caroline.  And thank you all for joining us on this call on a Friday afternoon.  We’re very excited to be here to talk about the First Lady’s Better Make Room launch, which is part of our Reach Higher campaign.

The First Lady launched Reach Higher over a year and a half ago because getting kids to pursue and complete higher education is a personal passion of hers.  It’s also been a priority of the President’s.  The President has set a goal to return the United States to the top in the world in number of college graduates by the year 2020, and Reach Higher is part of our effort to support that goal.

We know that to compete in today’s 21st-century global economy, some education past high school is absolutely essential, and that’s why Reach Higher fits.  And it fits for the First Lady because she herself is a first-generation college graduate.  And she has seen and talked a lot about how college education changed her life, how she wants to make post-secondary education possible for every young person in this country.

And when you think about Reach Higher, what we like to do is really tell people that you should think about the First Lady as school-counselor-in-chief for the entire country.  So as part of Reach Higher, she’s been talking about things like college and career exposure, financial aid and affordability, making sure kids are ready on day one academically to succeed in college, and bolstering the role of school counselors for college and career readiness.

But we know there’s more to do.  And what we really want to do is actually reach kids themselves.  Given how increasingly connected and mobile this young generation is, we know that to reach them and to inspire them, and to change the conversation around education, we actually have to work even harder to meet them where they are.  And that’s where the Better Make Room campaign comes in.

So to walk you through the campaign, I’m going to turn the call over now to Eric Waldo, who is Executive Director of Reach Higher.  

MR. WALDO:  Thank you so much, Tina.  And thank you, everyone, again for joining the call. 

I think what’s really unique about Better Make Room is that this campaign is really targeting students directly.  And we’re thinking precisely about Generation Z, or young people who are in the age range of about 14 to 19 years old.  And the goal and purpose here is really to celebrate those students who are reaching higher, and they’re making higher education a priority in their lives.  And what we want them to do is they should think about that as being at a four-year institution, a community college, a trade school, but some education past high school.  

And what really matters is that this campaign is going to give the spotlight and recognition the President and the First Lady know that young people deserve, because the idea here is we want to make sure this is going to resonate and be sticking with young people.  So there’s a few key aspects of the campaign that are going to help us do that.  

Again, we want to celebrate students and their stories the same way that we often talk about celebrating celebrities and athletes.  And so how we’re going to do that is we’re going to give students a creative space at  And this is a fully interactive website where students can go online and create content about what’s inspiring them to go college.  They can post their goals, they can share their progress, they can post those funny pictures with the crazy hashtags.  And this content is going to live right next to some supportive and motivational content that’s created by our celebrity partners who are using their voices to lift up those students’ stories.

So students will be able to amplify their own content on the site to their own channels and give them this opportunity to build a community with their peers about being college ready.  But also, at the time, on this site, we’re going to have calls to action and resources available so they can take the necessary steps to really go after and complete a college education.  Things like registering for the ACT and SAT, visiting a college campus, filling out the FAFSA -- the form that gives you access to federal financial aid dollars -- and making sure students are applying to enough colleges so it’s a real opportunity for them.

Now, we know that to make a public-awareness campaign, we want to have a big launch.  And students deserve that.  So this Monday at the White House, we’re hosting an event for stakeholders, celebrity partners and influencers.  And we’re going to follow up that launch date on Monday with a rally with LeBron James on Wednesday in Akron, Ohio at the University of Akron.  So it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

We are going to be encouraging our stakeholders to partner with this campaign in ways that make sense for the organizations.  So whether that’s advertising space, in-store displays, clothing designs, social media coverage, or social media influencers, we know there’s -- everything that our partners can do to really help expand the reach of Better Make Room to get students where they are and make sure that that message about college is getting to them in an authentic and a viral way.

So just a few examples.  We have some social media influencers from Awesomeness TV and Vine that will be attending.  The Vine influencers alone have 41 million combined viewers.  So these guys really will help us amplify the energy of the day and the energy of the campaign to the students we care about the most.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to Ankur, who is going to talk a little bit about Vine and what they do to reach students directly, and how they’re going to help amplify Better Make Room.

MR. THAKKAR:  Thanks so much, Eric.  Yes, to continue what Eric was saying, this campaign is at the core of what Vine is about, and that’s why we’ve partnered with Reach Higher and Better Make Room.  For creators who turn to Vine to share their incredible stories, Vine is a stage.  And we want to see that stage used for entertainment and also for good.  

Like the other digital platforms partnering with Better Make Room, we know the reach and scope of our platform.  We have an engaged, active and passionate community, and some of our most influential Viners reach millions of students.  We’re excited to see the newest outreach to motivate young people and change the cultural conversation around education.

We heard the First Lady’s call to marshal our resources and platforms to support students reaching higher, and that’s why we’re proud to be standing with her for Better Make Room.  It’s incredible for us to see how engaged young people become when influencers speak out about certain issues or rally around a cause.  We think their presence at the White House on Monday is really going to get this campaign off to a wonderful and impactful start.  I want to thank you all for covering this very special launch.

Q    Hi.  I know that Reach Higher started as a campaign really targeting especially high-achieving, low-income students.  But you have acknowledged that any post-secondary plan beyond high school is acceptable.  Can you talk about how you're looking to include more than just a traditional four-year college degree?

MR. WALDO:  This is Eric Waldo from Reach Higher.  I really appreciate your question.  I think the President and the First Lady have both been really clear -- certainly the First Lady’s story is what you described.  But we're absolutely clear that when we define post-secondary success, we do mean a two-year degree, a four-year degree, community college and an industry-recognized certificate or credential.  It’s some education after high school.  

In fact, the First Lady went to visit Howard Community College on her back-to-school event this fall talking about their nursing and CTE program.  They recently also just launched a Reach Higher Career app challenge, which is helping students create -- helping get apps to students to help them access CTE programs.  We are really fundamentally clear, and the First Lady is 100 percent aligned with the President that some education past high school is the ultimate goal.  

And we're allying -- pushing free community college, access to CTE and those other credentialing programs, and promoting that as part of Better Make Room.  And Better Make Room will help provide resources for students to find access to this program.  So it’s not just elite four-year schools; we want to make sure that all of our post-secondary options are out there on the table and that we're really encouraging students to find their passion and really -- successful in those enterprises.

Q    Will there be a new website for this initiative?  And if so, what is it called and when will it become active?

MR. WALDO:  This is Eric Waldo.  The website will be, and that will become live on Monday with the launch.  

MS. ADLER:  Wonderful.  Well, thank you, everyone, for joining us on a beautiful Friday afternoon.  And we're around if you need us for any questions ahead of the launch on Monday.  With that, have a wonderful weekend.

3:19 P.M. EDT