As Michelle Obama eases into her 50s and her husband’s second term as president, she’s speaking out about the value of college for all students — and revealing some awkward moments in her own experience.
The first lady appears in a new “I’m First” video backed by a non-profit group called the Center for Student Opportunity. In it, she speaks directly to students who could become the first in their families to attend college.
“Neither of my parents graduated from college, so when I got to campus as a freshman, I'll admit I was a little overwhelmed,” she says of her first year at Princeton University. “I didn't know how to choose my classes, or find the right classrooms. I didn't know how to furnish my own dorm room.
“In fact, when I moved in, I realized that I hadn't even packed the right size sheets for my bed, mine were way too short, so that first night, I slept with my legs sticking out past the end of the sheets, rubbing up against one of those old plastic mattresses, and I ended up sleeping that way for my entire freshman year.”
Obama grew up in Chicago before attending and graduating from Princeton in 1985 and Harvard Law School in 1988. In the video, she encourages other students to have confidence in their ability to succeed in college, no matter how intimidating it may seem. She confesses that she initially worried that she wasn’t as smart as her classmates at Princeton.
“But soon enough, I realized that was all in my head,” Obama says. “I was just as smart as everyone else, and I had just as much to contribute. I just had to have the confidence to believe in myself, and the determination to work hard, and ask for help when I needed it.
“That's my message to all of you. No matter where you come from, or how much money your family has, I want to know that you can succeed in college, and get your degree, and then go on to build an incredible life for yourself.”
The “I’m First” campaign features a range of people talking about their college experiences and offering words of support, and Obama was an obvious choice for the video series. She also recently spoke out about access to higher education at a White House event, according to the Washington Post.
"The truth is that if Princeton hadn’t found my brother as a basketball recruit, and if I hadn’t seen that he could succeed on a campus like that, it never would have occurred to me to apply to that school — never,” Obama said at the event. “And I know that there are so many kids out there just like me.”