Culver City Edition Education Lead Story West Edition

Former first lady encourages students heading to college

LOS ANGELES — Former first lady Michelle Obama led a raucous pep rally at UCLA May 1 for 10,000 high school seniors and transfer students in celebration of their moves into higher education, telling them to never stop dreaming of reaching loftier goals.

“I had someone tell me you shouldn’t reach too high,” Obama — sporting a Compton College shirt — told the crowd at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. “They told me I wanted too much for myself. I should dream a little smaller. And let me tell you, that will happen to you again and again and again. They are haters.

“In those moments … because they will come up, you have to ask yourselves whether you’re going to believe the haters or whether you’re going to believe the truth of your story.”

Obama, joined by a host of celebrities including John Legend and Conan O’Brien, spoke to the students on College Signing Day, part of the Reach Higher campaign she started in the White House in 2014. The campaign is an effort to encourage students to pursue higher education, “whether at a professional training program, a community college or a four-year college or university.”

Obama has said she started the campaign in response to her own experiences, saying she never received encouragement from school counselors or others to strive for higher education. But she went on to graduate from Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

The Reach Higher campaign is designed “to inspire every student, especially first-generation and low-income students, to take charge of their future and complete an education past high school.”

Obama said that when the Reach Higher campaign started five years ago, there were only a handful of College Signing Day rallies around the country, but this year there will be more than 3,000 celebrating the higher-education aspirations of 600,000 students.

“You overcame so many hurdles and I know that,” she said. “So I know it must have felt special to get those acceptance letters. … I want you all to know personally you’re about to make the best investment you can possibly make. And that’s true whether you’re going to a trade school or the military or a community college or a four-year university.”

The Reach Higher campaign also works to raise awareness about the availability of education grants and scholarships and to increase the number of school counselors to provide support to high school students. According to the Reach Higher website, students who meet with a school counselor to discuss financial aid or college are three times more likely to attend college and seven times more likely to apply for financial aid.

“None of us does this alone, and that’s why we put this day together, because we want you all to understand how many people have your back. There are many ways to lead this life, and there’s no one right way to do it. So if you stumble … I want you to get back up.”