Harlem Armory

New York, New York 

(April 26, 2016) 3:45 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  This has been pretty exciting, huh?  (Applause.)  I am so, so happy to be here with you guys.  Look how good you all look!  (Applause.)  You look so good!  (Applause.) 

First lady Michelle Obama speaks the 2016 College Signing Day, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

First lady Michelle Obama speaks the 2016 College Signing Day, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

All right, let me start by thanking a few people.  I want to thank Melissa and Ben for being here and for their amazing introduction.  

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you! 

MRS. OBAMA:  I love every single one of you!  Every single one of you!  (Applause.)  I’m so proud of you all.  (Applause.) 

But I also want to thank La La and Sway and all of MTV for co-hosting this.  You know they put this together for you all?  Do you know that?  (Applause.)  

But most of all, I want to give a huge shout-out to all the amazing young people who are here today because just — I want you to take a moment because you saw what just happened on this stage.  You understand how many people it took to put this together.  We did this because of you all.  (Applause.)  You all are the reasons we did this.   Melissa, Ben, Allan Houston, Sway, La La, Carmelo — I mean, all of us are here today because we are beyond proud of you.  (Applause.)  

I want you all to listen to this:  These Grammy Award winners, these NBA All-Stars, these Hollywood celebrities all wanted to be a part of this day.  I called, they came.  They love me, but they love you even more.  They want to celebrate your achievements.  (Applause.) 

So I want you to take this in, because no matter what path any of us on this stage took to our success, we all know that completing your education past high school is the most important thing you can do to reach your dreams.  That’s why we’re here. 

So while you all might be in awe of us, let me tell you, we are in awe of you.  (Applause.)  Because we know how much work it took for you to get to this point.  We know that you have been studying.  (Applause.)  We know how early you had to wake up every morning to either catch the bus or walk to school.  (Applause.)  We know about all those applications and essays, all those FAFSA forms you had to complete to make it to this day.  It wasn’t just a notion!  (Applause.) 

But we also know that even in those moments when you were tired and a little frustrated, maybe filled with a little doubt, that you never gave up.  (Applause.)  You never stopped fighting for your dreams.  And you did it!  Every single one of you in this room is going to college!  (Applause.)  Man!  Look at you all!  And that’s really what College Signing Day is all about.  It’s about celebrating your academic achievements.  Listen to this.  We are celebrating education up in here!  (Applause.) 

We wanted to shine a big, bright light on outstanding young people like you because, until recently, signing days have been exclusively associated with big-time athletes, big contracts, and even bigger money.  The country spends weeks anticipating which players are going to sign with which teams.  Now, we love that picture of the high school or college student holding up their jersey to the cheers of the nation, and while we all love the excitement and drama of sports signing days, we all believe here that college signing days deserve the same level of attention.  (Applause.) 

See, we believe that all the adoration and attention should not just be focused on a few amazing football or basketball players.  The focus should be on young people like you.  (Applause.)  We want people to be sitting on the edges of their couches, wondering where you’re going to college.  (Applause.)  We believe that the entire nation should be looking up to you all as our heroes and role models.  (Applause.) 

So that’s why we’re all here today.  And let me tell you, I am so thrilled that College Signing Day is catching on nationwide.  Two years ago when we started this, there were just a few dozen communities who were holding events like this.  Last year, it was 600 communities that had a College Signing Day.  And today — today there are more than 1,000 signing day events happening all across the country.  (Applause.) 

So understand that you all are part of a movement.  And please understand today, this is your day.  So I really want you to take a moment to just soak it in.  Think about everybody who came parading out here for you.  We are so proud of everything you’ve achieved, and we don’t take the struggle for granted.  (Applause.)  So soak it in and enjoy it. 

But then, here’s the thing, the minute you get to college this fall, I want you to get right back to work.  (Applause.)  Because today is not the end of your journey — it’s just the beginning.  Remember, the goal, the ultimate goal here isn’t just getting into college; the goal is to finish and get that degree, okay?  (Applause.) 

And trust me, you guys, there are going to be times when that is going to seem like an impossible task — and I know that from my own experience.  My parents did not go to college.  So while they loved and supported me unconditionally, they couldn’t answer any of my questions or give me advice about how to succeed on a college campus.  They had never done it. 

So when I arrived at Princeton my freshman year — (Applause) — and imagine, little miss South Side of Chicago girl on Princeton’s campus.  Believe me, I had a lot of catching up to do.  I didn’t know anybody.  I didn’t know what classes to take.  Shoot, I didn’t even have the right size sheets for my bed.  (Laughter.)  Because I didn’t realize the beds in college are extra-long.  (Laughter.)  I was homesick.  I was anxious.  But after a couple of months, I had to get it together.  I had to make a decision.  And I decided that I needed to step up and own my college education, just like I owned my high school education.  (Applause.) 

And I realized that in order to do that, I couldn’t just rely on myself.  I needed to ask for help.  So I started reaching out to anybody I could — to professors, I started making friends with the upperclassmen, they became my mentors.  And believe me, ya’ll, I studied like I’d never studied before. 

And soon enough, I kind of got the college thing down.  I was feeling myself a little bit.  (Applause.)  But the one reason I share my experience with you all is because I am no different from you all.  My parents didn’t have money.  I went to public school.  We didn’t have a whole lot of examples to follow, but I know that if I can do it, you can do it, too.  I know that in my heart.  (Applause.) 

And I want you to hear that from me.  I want you to hear it from your First Lady:  As long as you’re willing to put in the work, you’re going to make this happen.  You can do this.  (Applause.) 

So I just want to end by giving you a few pieces of wisdom that I want you to really listen to and think about, because I know how you’re going to feel when you get on campus.  The first reality is that I want you to be focused.  You have to be focused in your classes.  What does that mean?  You’ve got to be on time.  You’ve got to show up every day.  Just think about the cost, per day, that you are paying for class.  Do not miss class.  Pay attention.  Take careful notes.  Raise your hand.  Ask questions when you’re confused.  Don’t be afraid to be wrong, because that was me — I didn’t even want to hear my voice in class.  I don’t want that for you.  Don’t be afraid.  In college, you can’t just sit back and space out.  You have to be an active participant. 

Second, I want you to be engaged in campus life.  If you are sitting in your dorm room too much by yourself, you’re not doing the right thing.  You’ve got to get out and join clubs, extracurricular activities, just like you did in high school.  Find internships, as Damon said, and other opportunities that are going to get you ready for summer jobs, jobs after college, graduate school, and all of life after that.  You have to go after those opportunities, because kids who are prepared know — they’re hustling to get their summer internships in line.  So I want you to get on campus and be prepared for that. 

The last thing I want you to do — and this is no small piece of advice — ask for help.  Ask for help, ya’ll.  (Applause.)  And don’t wait.  The minute you start to feel like you’re falling behind, the minute you find yourself struggling, you absolutely have to ask for help.  And remember this:  No one gets through college alone, and you’re not supposed to.  You’re not supposed to know anything when you get there.  That’s why there are countless people on your campuses whose job it is to help you succeed.  You’re going to have RAs and deans.  You’re going to have a writing center, a tutoring center, counseling centers — they’re all just waiting for you to come to them for help. 

But here’s the thing.  In college, they’re not going to come knocking on your door.  That’s just the difference.  They are not going to be looking for you.  It’s going to be up to you to go knocking on their door.  And let me tell you this:  If the first person that answers that door is not friendly or helpful — which they may not be, there are a lot of people that don’t want to help — then ask somebody ask.  And I want you to keep asking until you find somebody that’s going to get you in the right place.  Know that — you’re going to hit walls.  There are going to be people who are going to turn their back.  You keep asking, because if you go to college, there is somebody there who is going to help you get where you need to be. 

And if you all do all of this, then I know you will succeed.  I am so sure of it.  And then when that day comes, and you find yourself walking around campus like you own the place, which you all will be doing, okay — (laughter and applause) — then I don’t want you to just pat yourself on the back and say good job.  I want you to reach back and help other young people like you find their path to success.  (Applause.)  That’s your job now.  You all are mentors.  And at this stage in the game, you all know somebody just like you who’s not thinking about college.  They don’t think they’re college material.  Maybe it’s a younger brother or sister, or a kid down the street — they’re just like you.  I want you to show them that your story can be their story, too.  And that starts right now, today. 

So we’re going to do a little making-this-all-go-viral stuff right now.  (Applause.)  So I want to know if anybody here has an iPhone — yes, I know you all do.  Come on, don’t act like you’re not carrying this stuff around.  All the selfies you ask me to take.  (Laughter.)  So I want you all right now, get your phones out, you have permission to take out your phone — everybody, take your phone out, and I want you to take a selfie right now in your college gear.  Take it right now.  I did this, this morning — that’s why I’m wearing my t-shirt.  My husband did it this morning.  Every athlete and celebrity here today is going to do it, too.  And together, we’re going to make this event go viral. 

So after you take your selfie, I want you to tweet it, post it, Instagram it, whatever you all do — I don’t know all the little things you do.  (Laughter.)  Use the hashtag #CollegeSigningDay.  And if we do this, we’re going to show everyone out there in the world, we want to show them who you are.  And we want you to brag a little bit about all that you’ve achieved, okay?  Can you do that?  We’re already trending out there in the ether.  With your help, we can get this over the top. 

And then next fall, at college, get out there, and continue to make your families proud, your community proud.  Make your President proud.  (Applause.)  Make your First Lady proud of you.  (Applause.)  But most of all, make yourselves proud.  (Applause.)  I know you all can do it.  I love you all with all of my heart.  I am going to be cheering for you.  Every step of the way I’m going to be praying for you.  And I cannot wait to see all that you’re going to achieve and do with your lives.  I’m so proud. 

Now, we’ve got one more thing.  I am now excited to turn things over to some of the most talented people I know — the folks who, along with College Humor, helped me debut my rap career — (Applause) — by taping a rap of me in the White House.  Let’s give it up for Jay Pharaoh and the Gregory Brothers!  Give it up.  (Applause.) 

                          END