COLUMBIA, MD— As part of her Reach Higher education initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Howard Community College (HCC) in suburban Maryland on Thursday, where she engaged with a diverse audience of high school and college students and took part in a panel discussion hosted by ESSENCE.
Along with Mrs. Obama, panelists included Kate Hetherington, HCC president, Trecya Jordan, a nursing student at HCC and Steve Snelgrove, Howard County General Hospital President. The 30-minute discussion was moderated by ESSENCE features editor, Lauren N. Williams, who fielded questions from an audience of several dozen high-school seniors on topics that ranged from how to select a suitable college, to applying for federal aid. The event was also live-streamed on Essence.com and Howardcc.edu.
"We want to make sure students know all the options available," said the First Lady, who received hearty applause from the students, elected officials such as U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and other guests when she entered the room. "High school is not where you end. It's just the next step to have the freedom you want… Get an education. And there are many, many ways to do it."
Reach Higher is the First Lady's effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university. One generation ago, the U.S. led the world in college degrees; today, the nation's ranking is number 12. The First Lady wants students to “reach higher,” and rally the country around President Obama's “North Star” goal — that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
The First Lady's initiative dovetails with the kick-off of the second annual ESSENCE College Tour, a platform to empower young African-American college students to lead successful, focused and healthy lives. The 2015 Tour will visit three schools this fall: Hampton University (October 16), Clark Atlanta University (October 24) and University of Maryland (November 6). It will feature an exclusive video Q&A with the First Lady about her own college experience and advice for students and parents.
During her campus visit at HCC, Mrs. Obama watched as several college students gave an EMS (emergency medical services) demonstration to local high schoolers. She also spoke about the affordability of community colleges and how one can obtain academic and other skills in two-year schools that can lead to well-paying jobs. "Community college is one of those ways to do it,” she said. “You come in and get your training. You can also get internships."
Mrs. Obama—who said she and the President are guiding their eldest daughter, Malia Obama, through the college application process—stressed the value of education.
"This is the ticket. This is the best investment you can make in your future."