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Thursday, July 23, 2015

President Makes Surprise Visit at Reach Higher, Beat the Odds event

Students were treated to an additional dose of awesomeness Thursday with an unexpected visit by the President of the United States to the East Room of the White House during the late afternoon Reach HigherBeat the Odds late afternoon session.

President Obama makes a surprise visit to speak to students at Thursday's Reach Higher college and education event. Photo/Politics. On Point.

The visit helped culminate the first lady's day-long summit that included discussion on attending post-secondary education, preparing for job interviews, and serious talk about making dreams come true.

"I understand you spent some time with the true star of the Obama household, the First Lady of the United States", the president said, "but I'm not going to let her have all the fun."

The president took to the stage, amid cheers and applause, telling the assembled youth ,"America succeeds only when every young person in America is able to dream big and have the tools to chase their dreams."

Along his familiar line around of it matters not who you are, where you're from, or who you love, the president admonished the students to work hard in able to make it in life.

"Even when times look tough", citing inequality, racism and other 'isms', President Obama said that "America is still "a place of opportunity."

Opportunity and hard work has afforded eighteen year-old Austin Carter a chance at college.

Terrence J, First Lady Obama, Manuel Contreras with Wale and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Photo/CD Brown.

"I had a really rough past", Carter said. "That put a barrier between me and what I wanted to accomplish, and now coming here and hearing Michelle Obama being so personable with us really gave me a different perspective on life; and seeing Barack Obama here on the same day gives me more drive to make change in this world."

Said First Lady Obama during the Reach Higher panel discussion, "And part of what I want to do through Reach Higher is to make sure that young people like you all own that future; that you don't listen to the doubters, that you figure out how to make your own path, that you understand that hard work is at the key to everything that you're going to do, and that you make sure you finish your education past high school,"

The first lady was joined by a panel that included TerrenceJ from E! News, D.C. rapper Wale and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who encouraged students to take their education seriously even if you aspire to do other things.

"You can still chase other dreams", said Duncan who had aspiration of playing in the NBA, "but make sure you get the education.  It opens up a world of opportunity."

Rapper Wale explained how his college days helped him be self-made and to be his own boss.

"There's good and bad to being your own boss.  Like, you really have to wake yourself up.  I'm not going to get fired if I wake up at 11:00; but I might miss an opportunity, so I'm up at 6:00 [a.m.].  College, essentally to me, was taking the training wheels off my life."

The rapper also told of how being on his own led him to fall citing the no curfew, and access to members of the opposite sex.

"You mean to tell me I get to go be around girls all day?  I don't have no curfew?

Making those choices saw the aspiring musician saw him fail and landing on academic probation.

"I had to fall, I had to go to school and fall.  I had to be on academic probation and I had to realize I'm really putting my scholarship money in a bowl and burning it if I don't apply myself."

The day also focused on proving the students real-world tools.   In breakout sessions, the students learned how to prepare for job interviews.

Said college-bound Qwajarik Sims of Philadelphia, "It's funny because I have an interview tomorrow when I get home, so I plan to incorporate everything I learned today in the interview. It was right on-time."

Sims, who called the day's event, "amazing" (the operative word used most by students to describe their day at the White House), will attend college on a full scholarship to study Economics.

Gail Ford at Reach Higher/Beat the
Odds event. Photo/CD Brown
Students weren't the only ones encouraged by the event.   Gail Ford from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity for Learning Excellence praised the Obama administration for recognizing the work of students.

"To have the highest house in the land recognize your hard work and to encourage you along your path even when you have so many odds to beat, it's just amazing", she said. "This will be the highlight of their lives... and I really admire this administration for the work they do for education."

Howard "Brent" Henderson, of Georgia's School Counselors Association called the Reach Higher, Beat the Odds event "life changing" for the students who accompanied him and said it was just "what they needed to walk away with."

To hear the first lady talk about what I've been teaching was amazing, he said.

The  assembled students were later treated to a live performance by Wale.

See video of this 'amazing' event.

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