Here at Florida C.A.N!, we tend to focus on the Sunshine State, but when the First Lady talks about her own experience as a working-class first-generation college student to launch a national conversation about low-income students in higher education, you have to listen.

Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off a national conversation about first-generation college students, using her own life story.  In a speech delivered at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Obama explained how neither of her parents attended college but still imparted to her an “unwavering belief in the power of education.”

Encouraged by her working class family, she would wake up at 6 a.m. and ride a bus for an hour to attend one of the best high schools in Chicago. She went on to attend Princeton University and Harvard Law School. As she admits, several of her high school teachers discouraged her efforts.

“Some of my teachers straight up told me that I was setting my sights too high. They told me I was never going to get into a school like Princeton,” Mrs. Obama said to the crowd of high school sophomores. “It was clear to me that nobody was going to take my hand and lead me to where I needed to go; instead it was going to be up to me to reach my goals.”

Despite her ambition, she also described how she was stymied in applying to college by not having access to other resources such as test coaching and high-quality college counseling. “I couldn’t afford to go on a bunch of college visits,” Mrs. Obama said. “I couldn’t hire a personal tutor. I couldn’t enroll in SAT prep classes. We didn’t have the money.”

Yesterday’s event was part of a White House initiative to get more low-income students to apply and successfully graduate from college. The administration hopes to put pressure on universities to do a better job of recruiting and graduating low-income, first-generation students.  In particular, the Obama administration plans to focus on undermatching, the phenomenon of low-income students with stellar test scores and strong academic records choosing to not apply to selective colleges where they would probably be accepted.

To view a full-length video of Obama’s comments, click here.

The First Lady shared her story to inspire other students to perform to their highest potential. How about yours? Do you have a story about your experiences as a first-generation college student? It doesn’t matter whether you graduated decades ago or are just applying to college right now. Let us know.Or give us a call at 813.974.8606 We might feature your story here on the Florida C.A.N.! blog so that you, too, can inspire the next generation of Floridians who dream of succeeding at college and career.

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