July 21, 2016

“There is nothing more important you can do for yourself than get your education.”

Those were just a few of the many meaningful words from First Lady Michelle Obama, as she addressed a room full of college-bound students at the White House during her third annual Beating the Odds Summit, part of her Reach Higher and Better Make Room campaigns.

And two of those students in the audience were Summer Searchers! Brittnee Anderson and Odanel Brito-Sanchez, along with mentor Kaitlin Irvine, joined 130 young men and women from across the country, representing youth who have overcome substantial obstacles to graduate high school and make it to college.

Brittnee-Odanel-WH-cropBrittnee (left) and Odanel in the East Room of the White House

We are so fortunate for this to actually be the second time that Summer Searchers and FLOTUS have gotten together. Back in April, several New York City students and mentors joined Mrs. Obama as she celebrated National College Signing Day in Harlem.

For Brittnee, who will be attending Shippensburg University in the fall, the two-and-a-half hour journey from Philadelphia to Washington, DC was definitely worth it.

Being in the White House felt empowering. Walking the same halls that many successful, powerful and intelligent people once walked made me feel ensured that I can make it anywhere in life I want if I stick to it like Michelle Obama did.”

Odanel, who is going to Colby-Sawyer College, shared Brittnee’s enthusiasm, and especially appreciated the fact that he got to be in a place with so much historical significance.

“It was amazing. I really enjoyed the photos of the different events in the history of the White House.”

In addition to the First Lady, the East Room of the White House was packed with special guests, including U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr, author and BridgeEdU CEO Wes Moore, YouTube star and Michigan State alum Tyler Oakley and musical artist and Stanford graduate Jidenna, who also did a special performance for all the students.

All the speakers shared advice and strategies for students to use to successfully transition to college, and discussed the resources they will need to complete the next level of their education.

Read the Washington Post’s recap »

Watch Michelle Obama’s portion of the panel discussion »

But of course, it was FLOTUS herself who closed things out with this inspiration bomb!

“You can do this. I just straight up want you to walk out of here today knowing you have what it takes to be successful. There is no magic. It’s hard work. Doesn’t mean being perfect. Doesn’t mean you’re not gonna fail a class maybe or get a bad paper. It is about resilience. There is a reason you’re in this room. There’s no reason you can’t finish this. If I can do it, you can do it. I am no different from you all.”

Oh, and in between leading the conference and speaking to students, the First Lady found time to retweet us to her 4.7 million followers!
All the information being shared definitely made an impression on Brittnee and Odanel, and gave them an extra dose of wisdom (and inspiration) as they prepare to officially start their college journeys in the fall.

Odanel took the practical, concrete advice and resources to heart, saying “I have to balance both social and academic bases of college life. And I learned that the FAFSA has a new date!

(Students can start filling it out beginning on Oct. 1, 2016 for the 2017–18 school year, instead of having to wait until January 1, and they will be able to use prior year tax info)

“I learned that you can’t do everything alone and to ask for help when you need it,” Brittnee said. “And to get involved. Getting involved helps an unknown, alone and strange place become home. Getting involved will get you connects, friends and most of all a new place to call home.”

As the Summer Search team headed back to Philadelphia after an amazing day, Kaitlin summed up their feelings of gratitude.

“We’re grateful for the leadership and passion of Michelle Obama in creating visibility around college access and supporting all students in getting there, particularly low-income, first-generation-to-college students — she really gets it!”


Additional Resources:

Beating the Odds Summit recap in Washington Post »

Summer Search’s live event tweets »

Full panel discussions (video) »

“Up Next” text-messaging tool for personalized college reminders »

FAFSA changes »

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