From the Desk of Mrs.Obama: “I Believe In You”

Sept. 8, 2014. Greeting students at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Ga. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

In 2014, two months after launching her Reach Higher initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a small round table in the East Reception Room of the White House.

My colleague and Executive Director of Reach Higher, Eric Waldo, was tasked with bringing together a group of recent high school graduates who had overcome tremendous adversities to graduate high school. The students came from a wide range of backgrounds — urban, rural, foster, homeless, immigrant, special needs, and more — but they all had one thing in common, despite the circumstances they had beaten the odds, graduated high school and were off to start their first semester of college in the fall. I sat in the back of the room as each student took their turn sharing their story with the First Lady, and I was blown away. These students had overcome extraordinary personal obstacles to finish high school, get to college and now represented urban, rural, foster, homeless, special needs and underrepresented youth. Despite all of these challenges, they are still working to achieve a college degree and here they were at the White House, sitting around a table with the First Lady of the United States. And the First Lady, a first-generation college graduate herself, was telling them that they could learn from her story. The stories and the tears gave way to inspiration and fortitude. From that day forward, “Beating the Odds” would be an ongoing tradition at the White House .

“I want you to know how proud I am of your unwavering commitment to your education.” — First Lady Michelle Obama

Since that small 12 person roundtable, the event has expanded to over 130 students, and stars like Wale, Jidenna, Tyler Oakley, and Terrence Jenkins have joined Mrs. Obama in celebrating these students, hearing their stories, and answering their questions, and giving them tools and tips to be successful throughout their journey in higher education.

This week, Mrs. Obama sent letters to all the students she met at these Beating the Odds events, and this is what she wrote:

Join us for the First Lady’s final remarks Friday, January 6th at 11AM ET. Follow along with @FLOTUS or watch live at wh.gov/live.

Lauren Vrazilek is the Deputy Press Secretary to the First Lady.