First Lady Michelle Obama honored a room full of college graduates from Washington, D.C. public schools Thursday, continuing the first family’s public advocacy of higher education for minority and low-income students.
Speaking to 675 graduates of the D.C. College Access Program, Obama encouraged the graduates to “invest in themselves” in order to be able to give back to their families and friends.
Obama, herself a product of Chicago public schools, Princeton University and Harvard Law School, celebrated the backgrounds of the graduates of the program
“For many of you, being the first from your family or even the first in your neighborhood [to attend college] must have been unsettling at times,” Obama said. “You studied like your life depended on it, because you knew that it did.”
The first lady and President Barack Obama have made closing the achievement gap in higher education a part of their public agenda through President Obama’s “North Star” Goal, which aims to place America first in the world in the proportion of college graduates by 2020.
Jamila Lee, a recent college graduate from Temple University with a degree in tourism and hospitality management, was honored with a student achievement award and gave a speech on behalf of the graduates.
Lee spoke about her challenges having to take a year off from school after becoming pregnant in her junior year, and afterwards said the first lady's own story was an inspiration to her.
“Both the president and Michelle Obama, they’re not talking cheaply, they have the credentials,” Lee told McClatchy afterwards. “They have implemented various programs for youth and low-income families.”
Obama encouraged the graduates to return to their homes and communities to encourage children in similar situations to become involved in school and programs like DC-CAP.
“They need to hear that your story can be their story,” Obama said. “There is no reason why every child in this country cant follow in your footsteps.”
While serving as the junior senator from Illinois, President Obama delivered the first inaugural commencement address for the DC-CAP in 2005.
A non-profit, DC-CAP has awarded $31 million in scholarships to students from Washington public and charter schools in the past 15 years.
The organization works with up to 18,00 mostly low-income children annually. LD Ross, the vice president of programs for DC-CAP, said 85 percent of the children are African American and 10 percent are Hispanic.