Beating The Odds: You can. And you will.
Today, I’m headed to the White House. Casual! Not really, I’m freaking out.
My first visit to the White House was on a choir trip back in 2004. We stood on the outside of the gates, taking pictures from afar. I was in 9th grade, with no thoughts of college or what I’d do when I finally would be… an adult. The ellipses and italics were, of course, for dramatic effect; when you’re a freshman in high school, adulting is the most daunting thing you can possibly imagine.
So daunting in fact, that I never would have imagined that ten years later, I’d be invited inside those gates, to have a meeting with the president himself — but that’s exactly what happened. In 2014, President Obama hosted myself and a small band of digital creators to discuss the use of social media in reaching young people. Again, CASUAL. (Not really, I was so excited and nervous and awkward that I blurted out to the president that he had a cute desk while he gave us a tour of the Oval Office. Smooth!)
And today, I’m heading back to the White House to celebrate the thing that happened between 2004 and 2014 that changed my life, gave me the opportunities I have today, and made me a little less intimidated by that whole adult thing: the pursuit of higher education.
Today I join the First Lady to hear the stories of 130 students who’ve overcome unimaginable obstacles. They represent urban, rural, foster, homeless, special needs, and under-represented youth who have overcome incredible and (potentially terrifying) obstacles to persist through high school and make it to a post-secondary institution. I’m clapping for them right now, which is awkward, because I’m alone writing this, but just go with it, okay?
When I first met the First Lady in 2014, we celebrated her Reach Higher initiative by attending a pep rally together at a high school in Atlanta. That day, we giggled our way through filming a video together on being first generation college-goers. And so it only feels right that while we reunite at the White House today, it’s for the First Lady’s third annual Beating the Odds Summit, an event put on as part of her Reach Higher initiative and Better Make Room campaign.
Today, I’ll also moderate a panel, consisting of the First Lady, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., musical artist Jidenna AND a current college student. We’ll talk about the very real struggle that is college in the 21st century, how college is something that people have to want and crave and fight for and how that’s okay — because sometimes the things in life worth fighting for tend to bring us the most happiness anyways.
I’m a first generation student, just like the First Lady and countless other students out there Michigan State was a sanctuary for me — that’s where I started making videos and when I realized how I had a say in where my life was headed. When I think of college, I think of the people who live on your floor and go to dorm events with you, the study abroad programs that give you a reason to get a passport, the on-campus jobs in the cafeteria or the telemarketing center you take with other students paying their way through semesters, and the people you meet that help you explore who you really are and the person you were always meant to be. College can be so many things for you.
When you grasp what’s been given to you, and unapologetically create something for yourself that’s bigger and better — you give your friends, family and loved ones permission to do the same.
Join the conversation with us today online. Use #BeatingTheOdds or #BetterMakeRoom, and tell us how you’ve beaten the odds. Better yet, take the first step. Text ‘COLLEGE’ to 44044. You’re on your way.