This summer, First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed over 130 college-bound students to the White House for the Reach Higher Initiative's "Beating the Odds" Summit. According to a White House representative, students represented a wide range of communities and ethnicities – urban, rural, foster, homeless, immigrant, special needs, and more. The common thread: every student had to overcome great odds in pursuit of their collegiate dreams. Of the 130+ students in attendance, two Upward Bound students were privileged with the opportunity of a lifetime.
Madeline Allin & Deborah Nelson, both graduates of John Adams High School, were elated to attend the summit. When informed, Deborah was noticeably emotional. “I’ve had a rough four years. First, I got into college (Indiana State University) and now, I’m getting on a plane to go to the White House to hear Mrs. Obama speak to students like me. I can’t believe this happening.”
Similar to other attendees, the biggest challenge for Deborah and Madeline were not acceptance letters, test scores, or GPA. The biggest hurdles: the familial financial burden and the lack of resources. Fortunately, the summit not only provided pertinent information about the collegiate experience, funding, and opportunities, but the importance of resilience and ambition. After a candid panel discussion with first-generation college students, attendees received advice from First Lady Michelle Obama; Terrence J, E! News Correspondent; Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education; Jaime Casap, Google Chief Education Evangelist; Manuel Contreras, fist-generation student and co-founder of 1vyG; and musical artist, Wale (who shared a unique parallel to the lives of attendees) on how to successfully navigate the college experience.
After a few tears, laughter, words of encouragement, and inspiration, attendees received a mini-concert from performing artist, Wale...after President Barack Obama made an impromptu visit!
After a comedic entrance, President Obama reminded students,
Hello! How’s everybody doing? So, first of all, I want everybody to understand I am not Wale. Although I do have Wale’s mic and I’ve got to give it back to him after I say hi to you guys…Look, if a kid born in Hawaii named Barack Obama can end up being President of the United States and a young girl born on the South Side of Chicago can end up being the First Lady; there’s nothing you can’t do. Hopefully, this summit has given you some sense of the possibilities and it’s given you some relationships and some networks that you can now tap because not only do I expect out of you individual success, but I also expect you to work together to bring about some collective success.
Madeline is currently attending Indiana University – South Bend and Deborah Nelson is officially a Sycamore at Indiana State University.
Congratulations to the Class of 2015 for Reaching Higher and Beating the Odds!