By Valentina Zarya
May 5, 2017

Michelle Obama is determined to finish what she started.

Speaking Friday at a National College Signing Day event in New York City, the former first lady made it clear that although she has moved out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, she is not moving on from her signature initiatives. One such program is Reach Higher, which aims to inspire students to continue their education beyond high school—with the ultimate goal of putting the U.S. at the top of list of global college graduation rates by 2020.

“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,” she said, before noting that this year marked the fourth College Signing Day event—and her first as a civilian.

The annual event is meant to celebrate high school seniors who make the decision to enroll in college and drum up the kind of excitement around academic accomplishments as exists around athletic ones (the concept of a “signing day” originated as a way to celebrate athletes who have been recruited for college football teams). Obama participated in College Signing Day events in Harlem in 2016, in Detroit in 2015 and in San Antonio in 2014.

“There’s nothing more important than getting your education,” explained Obama. “We need to make going to college the event that we make so many other things. It’s gotta be more important than going to NBA; it’s got to be more exciting than getting a recording contract.”

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Obama had plenty of advice to share for the incoming freshman class, and was particularly passionate about students—and all people—seeking out help when they need it.

“You’re not supposed to go through this on your own. No one gets through college or life on their own. So when you hit those walls—and you will—don’t be surprised, don’t be shocked, don’t think it’s you, don’t think you’re not supposed to be there. Go get some help. Don’t sit in your room alone. Do not stew or stir. Go out and build your base of support.”

Reach Higher is one of a few education initiatives founded by the first lady. Another of her efforts, Let Girls Learn, is rumored to be in danger of being shut down by the Donald Trump administration. An email sent to Peace Corps employees this week by the agency’s acting director Sheila Crowley read that “we will not continue to use the ‘Let Girls Learn’ brand or maintain a stand-alone program.” The White House maintains that the program will not be changed.

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