Today, I met a young man named Troy.
Troy comes from New Orleans, where his family lived through the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. He couldn’t read until he was 12, and would regularly cut school because the other students would tease him. When he did attend, he’d shove desks, start fights — anything to get him out of class.
But then Troy saw his younger siblings start down a similar path. And he decided to make a change. He connected with his fifth-grade teacher, and enrolled in a program called the Urban League College Track. With the support of College Track and his teachers, he worked hard and made his way into high school — and today, he’s a sophomore at Bard College, studying American Literature.
There are a lot of kids like Troy out there — kids with all the potential in the world — but far too many of them are slipping through the cracks. They’re not making their way to college — maybe because their parents never went, or because they’ve never been encouraged to believe they could succeed there.
It’s on all of us to help change that.
That’s why today, Barack and I hosted college and university presidents, business leaders, philanthropists, and representatives from organizations around the country who are helping more of our kids see their potential and pursue their education. They’re helping them navigate the financial aid and college admissions process. They’re working with them to find schools that match their ability and interests. And they’ve made real, concrete commitments to help make college a reality for more kids.
And here’s the thing: You don’t have to be a university president or an executive to do that. There is something that each and every one of us can do in our communities to help make sure our kids realize their potential and make their way into higher education. That could mean having a conversation with a young neighbor or a relative, serving as a mentor, or volunteering at a local high school to help students fill out their college applications.
So I’m asking you today to make a commitment of your own — and learn more about the commitments that universities and organizations from around the country are making, too.
I’m passionate about helping our young people because I see my story in theirs.
Neither of my parents graduated from college, but they always encouraged me to pursue my education and told me that college was possible. And I know that there are so many kids out there just like me: kids who have a world of potential but need some encouragement and support to make it through college.
That’s why I was so inspired by some of the commitments I learned about today.
Universities are taking steps like helping underserved students with financial literacy, or finding innovative ways for academic advisors to better support students who could use a helping hand. And many colleges are working with organizations like the Posse Foundation to give kids the social and academic support they’ll need to graduate.
These kinds of programs aren’t just good for these young people. They’re good for all of us. Because after everything these kids will have overcome to get to college — and get through college — they’ll have all the skills they need to thrive in our businesses, and law firms, and labs. And that’s not just good for them and their families, it’s good for their communities and our country. That’s why Barack is working every single day to expand opportunities to every single young person in America. And that’s why we’re working to rally the country around his “North Star” goal – that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
Reaching that goal begins with each of us doing our part as parents, students, educators, and citizens.
We can all help a young person realize his or her potential, so I hope you’ll learn more about the commitments that organizations and schools around the country are making — and then make a commitment of your own:
Thanks in advance for everything you will do on behalf of America’s young people.
Michelle Obama serves as the First Lady of the United States.