Michelle Obama is no longer in the White House, but that hasn’t changed her commitment to the causes she championed as first lady.
On Friday, Obama took the stage at the Public Theater in New York to applaud more than 200 high-school students for getting accepted into college at the 4th annual College Signing Day, a national tradition the former first lady began as part of her "Better Make Room" campaign, an initiative she began in 2015 to help students pursue higher education.
"I might not live in the White House anymore, but Barack and I are going to keep on celebrating you all and supporting you and lifting you up, no matter what house we live in," said Obama, donning a T-shirt featuring the mascot of her alma mater Princeton University.
The campaign, which encourages students to share their college plans on social media, was launched to support her "Reach Higher" initiative, a push for America to have the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.
"This year, we’re even more inspired that this work isn’t over simply because the White House administration changed," said Aimee Woodall, founder and president of The Black Sheep Agency, the brand strategy firm that created and manages the "Better Make Room" campaign. "Mrs. Obama will continue this mission, and the momentum around it will only grow from here. We're all fired up, ready to go."
The goal is to make Generation Zers feel like stars for getting into college, an accomplishment underscored in society. Thanks to nonprofit Civic Nation, 600,000 students in 47 states took part in College Signing Day events on Friday.
"The decision to go to college to study is just as important as the decision of young athletes to play for a certain college," said Woodall. "We have to champion their decision and solidify the fact that they are changing their future by heading to college. This is a chance for the nation (and world) to make getting into college a huge deal."
Each year since 2014, Obama has appeared at a different city’s event, and promotes the campaign on social media. This year, she appeared in a 55-second YouTube video encouraging people to wear their college gear on May 5, take a selfie and share it on social media with the hashtags #CollegeSigningDay, #BetterMakeRoom or #ReachHigher. She also tweeted about the cause. Since January 1st, the campaign has seen more than 579 million impressions.
Woodall said celebrities are a key component of the campaign because they "flip the script." "There are some pretty significant barriers to higher education," said Woodall. "While we can't solve them with a positive message, we can help all students connect with support systems that aim to help them overcome their specific challenges. We can surround them with positive voices, resources, experiences and inspiration."
At Friday’s event, Obama was joined by models Bella Hadid and Ashley Graham, Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan and "Good Morning America’s" Robin Roberts, among other celebrities. Performing artist Nick Cannon emceed the show and musician Daya gave a short concert.
One student bound for the City College of New York described the event as exciting. "I'm speechless right now. I wasn't expecting this much energy," said 19-year-old Diego Rodriguez. "I just want to go home and tell my mom that I'm going to college."