A Pathway To College

A Letter from the First Lady Michelle Obama to College Outreach USA Students

Dear Students,


s you prepare to apply to colleges, I want to congratulate you on all of the hard work and hope it took to get to this point and to encourage you to bring that same tenacity and optimism to this very special moment in your life.

Know that you are not taking this journey alone. Family, friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors will always be there to provide the guidance and advice you need. And there are millions of other people who have traveled this journey before you. People who’ve worked hard, defied the odds, defeated low expectations, challenged stereotypes, and emerged as leaders just like I know all of you will.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk in the Inaugural Parade in Washington, DC.

I grew up in the South Side of Chicago; a community where people struggled financially, but worked hard, looked out for each other, and rallied around their children. My father was a blue-collar worker, and my mother stayed at home to raise me and my brother. We were the first to graduate from college in our immediate family.

I know that many of you will be the first to achieve that distinction, as well. And being the first is often a big responsibility, but don’t let that intimidate you. Just remember, on the first day of college everyone else is new too! So, enjoy and make the most of the opportunity. Be an engaged and active participant in all of your classes. Never, ever sit in silence. From the very first day, raise your hand, use your voice, and ask a question. Speak up and don’t be afraid to be wrong. Get to know your professors.  Introduce yourself. Attend their office hours. Make sure they know who you are and ask them to clarify anything that you don’t understand. Teachers want to teach engaged students.

Also, remember there’s more to college than just studying. Be open to the entire college experience. Make new friends. Learn about other people’s cultures and experiences. Don’t just hang out with people who make you feel good. Get to know some of the people that aren’t like you. Try some different classes. Learn a language. Read lots of books. Spend a semester abroad. Challenge your mind to embrace the diversity of the world that we live in. And don’t be guarded. Let people get to know you. Understand that your story and your experiences have value, and people need to hear them.

First Lady Michelle Obama reads to 3, 4, and 5-year-old children of military families at Ft. Bragg, in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

And if you struggle a little bit, so what? It doesn’t mean that you don’t belong there. It just means that you have to work a little harder, maybe a lot harder. Having made it through tough times and getting to the point of applying to college, having worked hard and fought hard to create something better for yourself, having made the most of every opportunity so far that has come your way, you should have more confidence, not less.

First Lady Michelle Obama visited Sesame Street and talked with Elmo about eating right, exercising regularly and being a healthy and positive role model.

The skills and experiences that have brought you to this moment are the same ones that will lead you to success in college. You already have everything you need to succeed inside you. Go show the world!

When people ask First Lady Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn’t hesitate to say that first and foremost she is Malia and Sasha’s mom.

But before she was a mother — or a wife, lawyer, or public servant — she was Fraser and Marian Robinson’s daughter.

The Robinsons lived in a brick bungalow on the South Side of Chicago. Fraser was a pump operator for the Chicago Water Department, and despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at a young age, he hardly ever missed a day of work. Marian stayed home to raise Michelle and her older brother, Craig, skillfully managing a busy household filled with love, laughter, and important life lessons.

A product of Chicago public schools, Mrs. Obama studied sociology and African-American studies at Princeton University. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1988, she joined the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she later met the man who would become the love of her life.

After a few years, Mrs. Obama decided her true calling was working with people to serve their communities and their neighbors. She served as assistant commissioner of planning and development in Chicago’s City Hall before becoming the founding executive director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an AmeriCorps program that prepares youth for public service.

In 1996, Mrs. Obama joined the University of Chicago with a vision of bringing campus and community together. As Associate Dean of Student Services, she developed the university’s first community service program, and under her leadership as Vice President of Community and External Affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center, volunteerism skyrocketed.

As First Lady, Michelle Obama looks forward to continuing her work on the issues close to her heart — supporting military families, helping working women balance career and family, encouraging national service, promoting the arts and arts education, and fostering healthy eating and healthy living for children and families across the country.

Michelle and Barack Obama have two daughters: Malia and Sasha. Like their mother, the girls were born on the South Side of Chicago.