Remarks by The First Lady, Nick Cannon and Seth Meyers in a Discussion with Howard University Students
12:50 P.M. EDT
MR. MEYERS: How are you guys doing today? You all look fantastic. I really appreciate this. So I want to bring out who's joining me, our guests today. And what we did is we took all the names of every Howard freshman and we randomly drew one, and it just turned out to be Nick Cannon. (Laughter.) Give it up. (Applause.)
You ready to do this?
MR. CANNON: Let's do it. You all ready? (Applause.) You guys are overdressed. (Laughter.) My bad.
MR. MEYERS: This is great. It's great to be out here with you. But I feel like -- should we bring one more person out?
MR. CANNON: We got to, man.
MR. MEYERS: Okay. Everybody, give it up for the First Lady. (Applause.) Wow. I have to be honest, I do not usually get standing ovations like that. Thank you.
MR. CANNON: You all knew Nick Cannon didn’t have no Secret Service. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: You were a good decoy.
MR. CANNON: Yes.
MR. MEYERS: Very, very good decoy.
MRS. OBAMA: You guys surprised? (Applause.)
MR. MEYERS: Well, I want to get started. I want to ask you guys some questions. Mrs. Obama, I'm going to start from you and ask, what did you gain from your college experience? And then, Nick, what do you hope to gain for you upcoming college experience.
But we'll start with you.
MRS. OBAMA: You know, what can I -- college was probably the most impactful thing that I have done in my life other than being the First Lady and having kids and marrying Barack Obama. (Laughter and applause.) But college did everything for me. I mean, it built my confidence, number one. It taught me that I could leave home and be successful away from home. It taught me how to open up, how to try new things that are scary, how to buck expectations and beat the odds, and all that good stuff.
So, I mean, this is one of the reasons why we promote Reach Higher and getting kids to own their future and go to college, if possible, because it changes your life. It just opens up a world of opportunity. And I hope that that is true for each and every one of you as you start -- many of you are starting your college careers here at Howard. Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right? (Applause.)
MR. CANNON: I get the question all the time. It’s like, you're already established in your career, why go back to school? And honestly, I'm not here for a degree, I'm here because I have a real thirst for knowledge. And I feel like that's why we're all here in this room. But honestly, because I felt like I've done so many things in my career and I've always been the youngest and the first to do so many things in entertainment, but I always felt like people would surpass me that had the experience of college. And I was jealous of that. And then, obviously even once I became a father and I wanted to be an example for my kids, I was like, well, I'm always talking about being an advocate for education, I got to walk the walk. And that's why I'm here.
MRS. OBAMA: So proud.
MR. MEYERS: And you said you're often the first, but you actually have a sibling at school here.
MR. CANNON: Yeah. I got -- my brother’s here. He's a junior and he don’t want to hang out with me because I'm a freshman. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: He's embarrassed by you. (Laughter.) You’re just a young freshman.
MR. MEYERS: And so, Mrs. Obama, how would your peers have described you in college? What sort of college student were you?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, that's a good question. I should have called by old roommate. I think people -- my friends would say I was funny, kind of silly. You may have noticed that over the last eight years that I can be a little silly. But I took my education pretty seriously. I mean, I knew how much it was costing my parents to send me. I knew my father had taken out a loan, and he was a blue-collar worker, so I knew I had to get it together and make sure I was doing my best.
So I tried to be a serious student and not procrastinate, but I was still somebody that would be described as somebody who liked to have fun, too, and go to the occasional party, or two or three. (Laughter.) A little turn-up. So I don’t think I was that much different than I am now. And that's why I think is important, is hold on to your authentic self, even in this experience, as you grow and achieve. It's like, remember who you always were, where you came from, who your parents were, how they raised you. Because that authentic self is going to follow you all through life, so make sure that it's solid so it's something that you can hold on and be proud of for the rest of your life.
MR. MEYERS: When you walked into parties in college, did you get a standing ovation like you did today?
MRS. OBAMA: No. (Laughter.) No, no.
MR. MEYERS: It took a while. It took a while to develop that?
MRS. OBAMA: No, no, no. No one knew me. (Laughter.) But I appreciate it now. I do, I do.
MR. MEYERS: So, Nick, how did you choose Howard? And follow-up question, how are you going to manage to be a college student, considering you have nine jobs? (Laughter.)
MR. CANNON: This is the mecca. There's no other place to be but here. (Applause.) When you think of such a prestigious institution, I mean, I'm a huge fan of so many of the alumni, like Paul Lawrence Dunbar, so many people that have really been impactful in our community throughout the years. This was a place where when I thought about school -- I mean, because there were even other opportunities, or people like, oh, you want to go here, well, you can be a part of this film program. I was like, nah, I have to go an HBCU and I have to go to the only one that really just inspired me from the beginning. (Applause.) SO H-U!
AUDIENCE: You know!
MR. CANNON: That's what I'm talking about.
MRS. OBAMA: That was good! Do that again.
MR. CANNON: H-U!
AUDIENCE: You know!
MRS. OBAMA: You just wanted to be close to me. (Laughter.)
MR. CANNON: Very true. Very true. And at the same time -- and as a college student, I'm learning this even more -- it's all about time management. And to be able -- I'm pretty sure we have some athletes in here and people with other extracurricular activities. I just consider all my other jobs extracurricular activities. But school is first and foremost, and I'm building my schedule around my classes, and then everything else is --
MRS. OBAMA: You know what, and this is what I want you all to think about, is Nick’s got jobs. And you may have a job, like me -- I had work-study. So, I mean, many of us have jobs. But the notion that he can hold down full-time jobs and still get what he can get done, done, is a testament that you can do this, okay? I want to make sure you all know. It is time management. And that means that Nick, as an adult with kids and a job, he knows he just can't procrastinate, they every hour matters.
But you have more than enough time, let me tell you. What, you have a couple of classes a day over the -- a few days a week, not even every day, right? Right? Every day you guys have class? Maybe by sophomore year it will start -- but you all have time to get it done. That's what I want you all to tell yourselves. You have time to handle this, right? So just keep that in mind. It may feel overwhelming, and that's one of the reasons why we're here, because we want you all to be successful. You're that first class. We want you to get through. So when it gets tough, just understand -- pull back, just reorganize your time, and know that you can make it happen. And reach out for help when you need it, okay?
MR. CANNON: And I'm in it with you all, so you all can help me too. We in this together. So I think it's probably --
MR. MEYERS: But just because he's Nick Cannon don't let him cheat off your test or anything. (Laughter.)
MR. CANNON: Aw, man.
MR. MEYERS: What’s your name, sir?
Q Chaz Westwick (ph), a sophomore information systems major from Gwinnett County, Georgia.
MR. CANNON: Tell it all!
Q Yeah, I'm also a team leader here in SOB, and I'm also a Howard University campus (inaudible). But basically, I want to know, if you could change one thing about your freshman year, what would it have been?
MRS. OBAMA: Change one thing? Oh, I probably would have tried more things. I mean, I don’t know how many freshmen are in the room, but it takes you a second to get adjusted right? I mean, sometimes -- you know, you're still sort of wondering, should I make friends? Should I go out? Should I sign up for clubs? The answer is yes -- yes, yes, yes. I mean, you all, as freshmen, should not be spending time alone in your rooms, unless you're studying. And when you're not, get out there. Push past your comfort zone. Meet people. Introduce yourself to people. Don’t think that people are going to come to you. And I wish I had known that, because I probably would have taken a few more risks and come out freshman year a little stronger, even a little more confident. So don't feel like you have to do this alone. And I wish I had come to that even earlier than I did.
So it's first semester? You guys have semesters, right? First semester, get out there. Just assume that everyone wants to know you, okay? Just assume that, right? (Laughter.) They want to know me. And don’t worry about adjusting. You'll feel at home in a matter of weeks. Probably by October you will feel like this is your home.
MR. CANNON: Awesome. Great advice. Great advice. Who do we have next? Do we have another question?
Q Hi, my name is Emanuela Haye (ph). I'm a freshman, international business major, French minor, from Wilma, Illinois. I was curious, what was your major in college? And did you major end up pertaining to your career?
MR. MEYERS: Well, I was -- first of all, I went to North --
MRS. OBAMA: Give real good advice, Seth.
MR. MEYERS: -- I used to live in Wilma. So nice to see you.
MRS. OBAMA: Hometown boy.
MR. CANNON: You all cousins.
MY. MEYERS: There you go -- we're cousins. I was lucky enough to know what I wanted to do. I knew my passion to some degree. So I was a radio/tv/film major in college. I thought I wanted to be a film director, and then I realized I didn’t -- wasn’t good at it. But I was lucky enough to know that that's what I wanted to do, and I studied things that I wanted to do. But I was very lucky. The most important thing that happened to me was an extracurricular activity, which is my school had an improv comedy troupe, which I ended up auditioning for and getting in that, and that ultimately set me up on my path to where I ended up.
So it's nice to both take classes you want to do. But speaking as well to the importance of extracurricular activities, sometimes that might be the thing that inspires your next chapter.
MRS. OBAMA: Excellent.
MR. CANNON: Next question. Or did you --
MRS. OBAMA: I was a sociology major. And it had nothing to do necessarily with law, which is ultimately -- I went to law school. But what I tried to do was choose something that I was passionate about, or something that I cared about. Because you know with a major, by junior, senior year, that's what you're going to focus on. So you want to look over the courses of your major and figure out whether this is what you're going to be interested in doing. So it should be something that's going to give you joy. At my college, you had to write a junior paper and a senior thesis, so I knew that I needed a topic that I would want to write more than 100 pages about. So I was interested in the study of people and human behavior. That was something that interested me. And it was also good because I knew if I wanted to go to law school, I'd need to get good grades. And to get good grades, I'd have to study something I cared about instead of something people thought I should study. And it worked.
MR. CANNON: Preach!
MRS. OBAMA: It worked!
MR. MEYERS: Nick, question for you. True story that you were buying books today?
MR. CANNON: Uh, yes.
MR. MEYERS: And you had to take an ID photo?
MR. CANNON: I did. I got my ID. I'm official. And I did -- books are expensive. (Laughter.) Man. (Applause.) I'm in it with you all.
All right, so who else has a question for Seth or the First Lady?
Q Hi, I'm Shauntee Foctor (ph), a sophomore marketing major from Princeton, New Jersey. And my question is, what did your freshman year teach you about yourself?
MR. CANNON: Great question.
MRS. OBAMA: That's a good question. I need to think about that. Seth doesn’t think before he answers. (Laughter.)
MR. MEYERS: Yeah, I just answer and worry about I later. I learned a lot about hygiene. (Laughter.) For real. I think my first month of college I thought, this is the best, I don’t have my parents.
MRS. OBAMA: Were you the smelly freshman?
MR. MEYERS: I was a bad -- yeah, I was not a jackpot roommate. And you realized, though, this is not -- I mean, that's a joke, but the truth is, you kind of have to take care of yourself. You have to figure out how to eat and how to do laundry, and you just realize -- I realized what an incredible support system, particularly my mother, had been in my life. And I remember -- well, this is a true story about you.
We sat next to each other at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2011, and my mother called me --
MRS. OBAMA: He didn’t smell.
MR. MEYERS: I didn’t smell. But my mother called me and said, "Please, please use good table manners while you're eating next to the First Lady, because I will be devastated if you put your elbows on the table, or your pick up a pea with your fingers. I am your mother, and this reflects on me." So ultimately, the thing I would say I learned about myself is that you have a now personal responsibility to do a lot of the things that you took for granted that your parents did for you.
MRS. OBAMA: That was good, wasn’t it? Preach on being clean! (Laughter.) Do your laundry. Change your underwear. (Laughter.)
MR. MEYERS: Unless they're lucky underwear and you have a test. I think that's very important.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, for me, I think it taught me that I could pretty much do anything. Because I know I've told this story before, but when I applied to colleges I had people who told me that I was reaching too high, that the schools I was applying to were too much for me. And then I got there, and I looked around and I thought, I'm as smart as these people, what were they thinking?
So there are a lot of people who will try to step on your confidence based on their assumptions about who they think you are. And what you have to remember is that you are competent and capable and able to do it. And I learned that. After graduating from college, I really didn’t feel like there was anything I couldn’t do, because I was so worried that maybe they were right about me going to this college. They were so wrong. So completely wrong.
So for all of you sitting here with those doubts in your head, because those whispers of doubt, they stay with you for a very long time -- ignore them. Brush them off. And just do the work. Do the work. And it's the doing of the work that gets you through. It's not what other people think of you. And I still carry that with me today as First Lady of the United States, because there are people who don’t think I should be doing that, either. And it's been about eight years now. (Laughter.)
MR. MEYERS: I want to say that is so unfair that you made me go first, because I said I learned that I didn’t know basic hygiene, and then you said I learned I could do anything. (Laughter.) Very unfair.
MRS. OBAMA: I told you to think first.
MR. CANNON: Wisdom, definitely. Do we have another question?
Q Hello. I'm Mark Witsmith (ph). I'm a legal communications major. I'm also part of the marching band, thanks to Nick Cannon.
MR. CANNON: Hey!
MRS. OBAMA: That's sweet. You watched Drumline?
Q Yes, that's why I joined.
MRS. OBAMA: That's so cute.
MR. CANNON: We're going to battle after this. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, we can do a battle. We talked about that.
Q Anyway, did you have any internship experiences? And did that help you get you to where you are now?
MRS. OBAMA: I had to do work-study. And I know how many people have work-study. A lot of people here? Or was I the only one that had to work-study in college? Well, I had a work-study job because I had to help pay for my tuition. So you've got the work-study jobs that are like you sitting in the library doing security or, you know -- it helps you because you can study. I actually had a job that connected me to somebody who was my first, most important, mentor. I worked for the school’s minority center, so I was an assistant, but the executive director of that center, she pushed me to think broadly about my experience. So, she helped me start an after-school program for kids of faculty and I travelled to New York for the first time because of her.
And so I was fortunate to have a work-study job that actually taught me something. But if I hadn’t had that, I don’t about you, I couldn’t afford to do free internships, which is usually what an internship is, because I had to go home and work and type and earn money.
But I would urge you all to think about internships. You know, even if you have to earn some money, figure out how you can do some of these things. Because it’s the internships, as Seth said, it’s the extracurricular activities that will give you a sense of what real life is like. You know, school is very theoretical and some people are good at that. But some people need more practical experience -- I know I did. And internships give you those opportunities to try some ideas for yourself on, to try some careers on.
So you want to think about how you use your summers and how you use your free time just -- because even if you have to work, maybe you have some spare time to do some community service. You all should be thinking about that, because it’s also resume-building for what you want to do. Whether it’s graduate school or whether it’s work afterwards, it’s the internships that will give you the things that you can talk about with the people who want to hire you. So keep that in mind.
Seth, you had time to think about this one.
MR. MEYERS: I did. (Laughter.) I did. Well, I would only say -- we have interns at our show. Every semester we have a different group of about 15 come in. And the only thing I would say is, when you do get those internships, you think you are invisible because you are the low man on the totem pole and people have you running around doing things that you will think is below your skill level. But I will tell you everyone is noticing how hard a worker you are. And not only do you have to present the best version of yourself here at school, but when you get out into the real world, you get an internship and it’s hard because you know you’re not getting paid, and you’re thinking maybe I can go 80 percent. But I can tell you, that even as someone who hosts the show, I notice which interns are working harder, and that’s such an important gateway to getting into the actual working world. So, take it seriously.
MRS. OBAMA: Yeah, just to echo that, the person who is -- who are my key personal assistants as First Lady now, who are paid to do that work, they were interns first. So they were interns in the White House because they were good, they got noticed, they came up, and now they spend 24/7 with me. They tell me what to do, when to drink, when I can stand, when I can leave. And they are like young too, so my life in controlled by like twenty-something-year-olds. It’s really annoying. (Laughter.)
MR. CANNON: I think we have time for one last question. What’s your name, sir?
Q Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Alfred (inaudible), freshman civil and environmental engineer, and future changer of the world
MRS. OBAMA: You are cute. (Laughter.) Ladies. (Laughter.)
Q -- from Prince George’s County, Maryland. And my question to ask you today is, what are some constructive ways to de-stress from classwork?
MR. MYER: Constructive ways to destress? Well, I have a way. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Constructive.
MR. MYER: Constructive?
MR. CANNON: That’s the key word there.
MR. MYER: I like to go into my -- I would go into my dorm room and I would turn all the lights off. And then I would just lie face-down on the carpet. (Laughter.) And I would whisper over and over to myself, “You have to stop screwing up.” (Laughter.) And then you would just do that until the sun comes up. (Laughter.)
I found it helpful, but you just laugh it off. Whatever. I support your answers.
MRS. OBAMA: You know, that was interesting. That was interesting. De-stress, it’s like, this is where your friends come in, right? You know, I remember when I was in college, some of the best times would be just hanging out with the people that you love laughing. You know, finding some humor in this situation that is college and life, and doing it with a little music and some food.
I still do that, you know. De-stressing now, it’s like spending time with good friends to good music and laughter. Laughter is a huge de-stressor. So make sure you get that in.
MR. MEYERS: And one of the places to get it is “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” (Laughter.) And again -- I just think -- (applause) -- NBC.
MRS. OBAMA: Well done, well done.
MR. CANNON: That was a great Q&A.
MR. MEYERS: So you know, as we’re wrapping up here, to both of you I would like to say, if the students can only remember one thing from this, that would be bad because they should be able to remember more -- (laughter) -- but if you could give them one thing to remember, what would you like to leave them with?
MR. CANNON: Me? I’m a student. I shouldn’t have to answer this.
But honestly, really just whatever you put your mind to, you can do it. I’ve always been taught that not only do you have to be a self-motivator, because there’s going to be a lot of haters that tell you you can’t do something and you -- so you have to motivate yourself.
But on top of that, you’ve got to have a corresponding action and be a self-generator. And we live in a time when we can generate opportunities for one another. So whether it’s networking, talking to people, whether it’s creating your own ideas, it doesn’t just start with “yes, I can do it, yes, I can do it.” It has to be, “yes I can do it and I will do it.”
MR. MEYERS: Very good.
MRS. OBAMA: He’s pretty good for a freshman. (Laughter.)
You know, this is the thing I tell everybody, even my kids because I’ve got a young person heading off to a gap year because she’s not going to college, so I’m feeling your parents’ pain right now.
One thing I want you all to remember is that failure is an important part of success. Nobody up here went a straight line to success. There are bumps and slip-ups and embarrassments that you think you will never overcome. Everyone has had it, from the President on up or down, whichever way you look at it.
The thing that you can’t do it hide from your failures and not seek help when you are struggling. And a lot of times, young people do that. They want to hide from their challenges as opposed to embracing them, and that’s something that you learn when you grow up because you’ve had so many embarrassments, you’re just used to being embarrassed and failing. So you’re good at recovering from it.
But it’s resilience that gets you through. The people who are successful aren’t the people who succeed all the time, it’s the people who can recover when they fail. And remember that. Remember that. There are people here who love you, who are here, they want you to succeed. Colleges want you to graduate. It helps them. Their attrition numbers improve because you graduate. So there are people all over the place that are waiting to just give you a hand if things start feeling a little hard.
And that’s not just academic, it’s emotional, it’s psychological. All of that is here for you. But you can’t -- don’t think you have to do this alone. Because nobody does anything hard or good or important alone. And that goes for getting through college.
MR. MEYERS: How about a round of applause, everybody, for freshman, Nick Cannon, and the First Lady. Thank you all so much, have a great freshman year. (Applause.)
MR. CANNON: H-U!
AUDIENCE: You know! (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: You got it.
1:22 P.M. EDT