First Lady: We Must Change the Odds

June 20, 2014

By Kim Cook, Executive Director

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the graduation celebration event of NCAN member DC College Access Program (DC CAP) on June 19. The night brought together more than 500 high school graduates, college graduates, and those involved in or influenced by the work of DC CAP. Mrs. Obama told graduates, “You are the pride of your community. You are the pride of your President and First Lady.” She continued the encouraging message throughout, saying, “You studied like your life depended on it, because you knew that it did,” and also reminding them, “Never listen to the doubters.” The First Lady challenged graduates to continue to invest in themselves to guarantee the success of their families and communities, adding that, “You are here today because someone chose not to walk away from you.”

Mrs. Obama also delivered an important message to for our work as college access providers, saying, "It’s not enough to help a small number of students beat the odds. We have to change the odds.” As NCAN members across the country who work to further college going and attainment, the goal of the goal of the First Lady’s Reach Higher campaign, it’s important for us to keep this refrain in mind. Helping a small number of students beat the odds is important work, but changing the odds for all students is how we reach the ultimate goal of more equitable society.

Former Washington Post owner Donald Graham and other D.C. business leaders started D.C. CAP in 1999 when only about 25 percent of D.C. high school graduates enrolled in college, and of those, only about 15 percent earned a degree. D.C. CAP put college advisors in every public high school, raised millions of dollars in private scholarships, and added “retention” counselors to support students once they entered college. Now close to two-thirds of D.C. students go to college, and of those students, nearly 40 percent earn a four-year college degree within six years.

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