First Gen Icon: Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama, First Gen IconContributed by: Madison Gleissner, Image Impact International Newsletter Editor

Though best known for being the former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama has also claimed the titles of lawyer, author, Associate Dean of Students, healthy lifestyle advocate, mentor to an interning Barack Obama, and first-generation college graduate.

First generation college students typically report feeling uncomfortable and out of place on campus, are usually part of an ethnic minority, and often come from an economically disadvantaged background. Like other first-generation college students, Michelle experienced more difficulty adjusting to college life at Princeton University than many of her peers. She recalls what it felt like to stand out for the first time due to her race, how she had not heard the word “syllabus” before, and not understanding why her bed sheets did not fit over the extra-long dormitory mattress.

Michelle Obama quote Empower Yourself with a Good Education

“I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong. So don’t be afraid. Be Focused. Be Determined. Be Hopeful. Be Empowered. Empower yourself with a Good Education.” – Michelle Obama

Michelle urges all students to find a supportive community, to which she owes much of her success at Princeton University and Harvard Law.

In the Good Morning America First-Gen Series, she asks students to find support while in college, encouraging them to seek mentorship in college faculty and find a community. She continues to advise students to take some risks… make some mistakes, and then learn from them,” and to always remember that you are worthy of your college acceptance.

Michelle Obama’s message should not be taken lightly or interpreted as inauthentic. Her passion is demonstrated in her involvement in various projects dedicated to creating brighter futures for today’s youth. In 2014 Michelle Obama introduced The Reach Higher Initiative which aims to have all Americans complete post-secondary education. Drawing on personal experience as a first-gen college student, Michelle Obama celebrates mentorship by annually participating in Reach Higher’s School Counselor of the Year ceremony.