Michelle Obama hosts summit to empower first-generation college-bound students

More than 50 students from the rising class of 2023 convened this week at Howard University for the Beating the Odds Summit, an annual event focused on encouraging and supporting first-generation students. The full-day workshop was hosted by Reach Higher, Michelle Obama’s initiative encouraging students to pursue postsecondary education, which is now housed at The Common Application.

Launched in 2014 as a small roundtable at the Obama White House, the summit has since expanded to a larger convening intended to empower college-bound students who have overcome significant obstacles, including homelessness and special needs. According to Reach Higher, as many as four in 10 low-income high school graduates with a plan to attend postsecondary institutions fail to begin those studies in the fall—a phenomenon known as summer melt.

Related: Michelle Obama leads College Signing Day, with students celebrating nationwide >

‘You are exactly where you belong’

“I see myself in you all,” Obama said to attendees at the July 23 event. “I was where you all were… coming from a working-class background, where you start out your whole life with people telling you what you can’t do. Starting to put those little doubts in your mind about whether you are worthy or capable.”

Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick also helped kick off the day. “I just wanted to take the time to say that you are exactly where you belong,” he told the audience. According to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, other speakers included several Reach Higher alumni, Wes Moore of the Robin Hood Foundation, Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle from the U.S. women’s national soccer team, and Philadelphia Eagles player Malcom Jenkins.

Jenkins emphasized the importance of mental health, noting the pressures felt by many first-generation students. “You feel like your family is counting on you,” he said. “You have these outside pressures that are on top of being a college student. You have to find ways to recognize that and deal with that in a healthy manner.” Following the presentations, students attended afternoon workshops on transitioning from high school to college and “the anatomy of college campuses.”

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