On Tuesday, July 19, more than 130 college-bound high school graduates from across the U.S. joined the first lady for the annual Reach Higher ‘Beating the Odds’ Summit.
Co-sponsored by the I Have A Dream Foundation, among other college access programs, the event brought together students from communities across the U.S. who have overcome seemingly daunting odds to enroll in college—such as poverty, homelessness, immigration status, and learning disability.
The students were selected to participate through various college access organizations that are part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative.
Two IHDF students, also known as Dreamers, participated in the summit. Marlen Ramirez, from IHDF’s program in Boulder, Colorado, got involved in the program in the eighth grade through a friend’s invitation. She’d noticed how her friend’s grades were improving and asked her about it. Soon Marlen became part of IHDF—and saw her own grades go up dramatically!
Ramirez credits her success to IHDF’s tutoring, field trips, and internships. She is heading to the University of Northern Colorado in the fall to study criminal justice.
Chelsea Bueno, from IHDF’s Ravenswood program in New York City, grew up in Long Island City. She got involved in IHDF in the third grade—her mother had found a flier about the program in their public housing development.
After moving with her family to Jamaica, Queens, Bueno often commuted nearly an hour to attend academic enrichment programs sponsored by IHDF. She has earned a full ride to Manhattanville College. The future occupational therapist says she considers IHDF her “second family.”
Along with celebrating the accomplishments of the 130+ students, the summit included a panel discussion on college readiness. The panelists—the first lady, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., a current college student, and musical artist Jidenna—shared their thoughts on finding academic support in college, forming strong networks at school, and attaining a sense of “career fluency” to find professional opportunities in the future.
“The summit was incredibly encouraging,” says Donna Lawrence, president and CEO of the national I Have A Dream Foundation. “The first lady spoke of her own experience coming from a low-income family and about her struggles getting through college. She encouraged the students by telling them that they had every reason to succeed in school—that if she could do it, they could do it too.
“You could feel her commitment to this issue—this is not a political moment in time for her. She also spoke of the importance of being an active citizen, that there are opportunities today because of concrete policies that have been passed. She urged the students not to take it for granted, but to become involved, active citizens and vote. It was a compelling message for young people to hear.”