First Lady Michelle Obama Talks Education in Final Speech as FLOTUS

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Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama honored teachers and school counselors at the 2017 National School Counselor of the Year event.

Held at the White House, the event marked her last speech as First Lady of the United States of America. “May I say for the last time, welcome to the White House,” she said to much applause.

In true Michelle Obama style, she acknowledged (while looking stylish, as usual, in a red cutout dress) “the fine women and few good men who represent schools across the country,” welcomed celebrities for lending their star power to inspire young people and thanked a host of education leaders, including Greg Darnieder, senior advisor to the secretary on the College Access Initiative, U.S. Department of Education, for their work on the educational front.

“These individuals are brilliant, creative and worked miracles with hardly any staff or budget to speak of which is how we roll in the First Lady’s office,” she joked. “I am so proud and grateful to you all for everything you’ve done.”

She then went on to talk about some of the initiatives her office has launched in support of improving education in schools across the nation.

“We wanted to make higher education cool and change the conversation around what it means and what it takes to be a success in this country. Because let’s be honest, if we’re always shining the spotlight on professional athletes, recording artists and Hollywood celebrities, if those are the only achievements we celebrate, then why would we ever think kids would seek college as a priority? So we decided to flip the script and shine a big, bright spotlight on all things educational,” said Mrs. Obama.

She referenced “College Signing Day” as a national event. “We wanted to mimic all that drama and excitement traditionally reserved for those few amazing football and basketball majors choosing their college and university teams. We wanted to focus that same level of energy and attention on kids going to college because of their academic achievements, because as a nation, that’s where the spotlight should also be – on kids who work hard in school and do the right thing when no one is watching. Many beating daunting odds,” she shared.

Next, she noted the launch of Better Make Room, which she described as a social media campaign to give young people the support and inspiration they need to complete higher education. “And to really drive that message home, you can recall me debuting my music career rapping about, ‘Gettin’ some knowledge by going to college,’” she joked. (This is one of the many things we will miss about the Obamas: not just their initiatives and their messages, but also their delivery. Their smiles, her hugs, her beauty, their good-naturedness, love for each other and for others, and their humanity and reserve in the face of adversity and the ugliness from the other side, from Day One of Mr. Obama’s presidency, has meant everything for so many of us.)

The First Lady also talked about what has been done to make higher education more affordable. “We doubled investments in Pell grants and college tax credits; we expanded income-based loan repayment options for tens of millions of students; we made it easier to apply for financial aid; we created a college scorecard to help students make good decisions about higher education; and we provided new funding and support for school counselors. We made the largest investment in higher education since the GI bill,” she reported.

Today, said Mrs. Obama, the college grad rate is at a record high.

After touting the impact that school counselors have on improving students’ academic lives, she shared one of the principles by which she and the president live.

“When you are struggling and feel like giving up, I want you to remember something that has carried us through our time spent in the White House. That is the power of hope. The belief that something better is always possible if you are willing to work and fight for it. It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country. Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, then we can be whatever we dream regardless of the limitations that others may place on us. The hope that when people see us for who we truly are, maybe just maybe, they too will be inspired to rise to their best possible selves…That is my final message to young people as First Lady. I want our young people to know they matter, and they belong,” she said to rousing applause and a standing ovation.

In addition to education in the U.S., Mrs. Obama’s legacy also includes initiatives to help girls around the world such as Let Girls Learn.

Tomorrow, she will be in Chicago to watch her husband deliver his farewell address as President of the United States of America.