Michelle Obama is back!
The former first lady on Friday appeared at The Public Theater in New York City to encourage high school students to pursue their dreams of higher education, and in the process, shared wisdom for all.
More than 200 students from across the city gathered at the MTV-hosted event to celebrate National College Signing Day 2017. The festivities were dedicated to high school seniors looking to the future, daring to do more, and seeking higher studies, whether through a four-year university, community college, or professional training program. The aspiring college students heard from a host of influential figures who shared their own college experiences and advice, but Obama took the cake.
In one of her first speeches since leaving the White House, Obama weighed in on everything from social media to what she will focus on in the years to come. Here are seven of the most inspiring things she said, all while showing her collegiate pride in a Princeton t-shirt.
1. The Obamas will always be there for you. “I might not live in the White House anymore, but Barack and I are going to keep on celebrating you all,” she said, “and supporting you and lifting you up no matter what house we live in.”
2. Education advocacy is a key part of her next chapter. “Our belief in the power of education to transform your life is real and it’s going to be at the core of everything we do going forward,” Obama explained. “So today we are celebrating because each and every one of you is taking the next step in your education.”
3. We need to celebrate education like it’s bigger than the Super Bowl. “There’s nothing more important than getting your education,” explained Obama. “We need to make going to college the event that we make so many other things. It’s gotta be more important than going to NBA; it’s got to be more exciting than getting a recording contract.” Obama insisted that students attending college should be celebrated more than the Final Four or the Super Bowl, adding, “This is important.”
4. Education > social media. “The number of acceptance letters that you get should be more important than the number of followers you have on social media,” said Obama. “That’s the bar we want you to reach.”
5. Ask for help when you need it. “There will be struggles — I’ve certainly had my share of struggles,” said Obama. “But here’s what I want you to know: You’re not supposed to go through this on your own. No one gets through college or life on their own. So when you hit those walls — and you will — don’t be surprised, don’t be shocked, don’t think it’s you, don’t think you’re not supposed to be there. Go get some help. Don’t sit in your room alone. Do not stew or stir. Go out and build your base of support.” She added, “You cannot do this alone — I didn’t, and we are not expecting that from any one of you. Y’all can get this done. If I can do it, you can do it.”
6. Find your community and stay positive. “You have to find your community in college and it may take some time,” she explained. “You are going to get this thing and you are going to soar and you are going to continue to make us proud because we need you prepared to be the next generation of leaders. There’s stuff going on out there and thankfully we have you to take up that challenge. You’re going to be the next leaders of tomorrow. So don’t ever get discouraged.”
7. Give back: “Remember this day,” she said. “Take this spirit and all this energy and bring it with you as you go on and go off and do great things. We will be watching you, hoping you come back and you share that energy and you give those gifts backs to your siblings, your community, to your neighborhood, to this country. We need you.”
Nick Cannon, a current student at Howard University, was the emcee for the star-studded event, which also featured acoustic performances from Daya of her songs “Sit Still, Look Pretty” and “Don’t Let Me Down,” a collaboration with The Chainsmokers.
The live-streamed event (watch the Facebook Live video above) also included Bella Hadid, Andy Cohen, Billy Eichner, Matthew Rhys, Robin Roberts, Tamron Hall, Hamilton‘s Okieriete Onaodowan, iJustine, Questlove, Ashley Graham, Donna Karan, Nate Berkus, and more. Each shared messages of encouragement for the eager teenagers in the room.
The “Forever First Lady,” as host Cannon dubbed her, supported the day in the past by hosting similar events in Harlem (2016), Detroit (2015), and San Antonio (2014) as part of her Reach Higher initiative through the White House.
On to freshman year, class of 2021!