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Michelle Obama Advises Future Freshmen: If You Fall Behind, Ask for Help.

The stadium was filled with celebrities, professional athletes, local politicians, and former First Lady Michelle Obama, but the guests of honor hadn’t won any Oscars, Super Bowls, or national elections.

At least, not yet.

Last week, for the fifth annual College Signing Day, thousands came out to Philadelphia’s Temple University to celebrate young people who have made the decision to continue on to higher education.

Part of the Better Make Room Campaign, College Signing Day aims to celebrate young people at a transformational moment in their lives and inspire them to strive to their fullest potential. The campaign is a continuation of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, launched during her years in the White House. Broadly, the campaign aims to increase enrollment in higher education, whether at a four-year university, vocational school, community college, or military service.

“Your college degrees…set you up to lead the life of your dreams and succeed in whatever you wish to do,” said Obama in a video message to young people released prior to the event.

Now in its fifth year, a record 2,000 College Signing Day events took place in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC, with hundreds of thousands of students participating in person and on social media.

At Temple’s Liacouras Center, the mood was exuberant. Students decked out the gear of their future colleges danced their way to their seats as the marching band blasted school anthems, cheerleaders rocked the stage, and a DJ cried over the loudspeaker, “Today, we celebrating y’all going to college!”

Hosted by Nick Cannon, the event featured celebrities such as Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Karlie Kloss, Janelle Monae, Zendaya, Rebel Wilson, Ciara, KeKe Palmer, Questlove, and Camilla Cabello, along with championship winning athletes from the NFL, NBA, WNBA, and more.

As students, parents, and educators cheered from the stands, the star-studded lineup cheered them right back, offering words of encouragement, praise, and advice.

“Congratulations on your success in high school,” said actor Robert DeNiro. “You’re poised for success in your next move. Your accomplishments have required commitment and maturity––those qualities will serve you well as you continue your adventure.”

“Always be curious, always ask questions, and be sure to step outside your comfort zone,” said model Karlie Kloss, who founded and runs Kode With Klossy, an organization that teaches teenage girls to code and empowers them to become leaders in tech.

Musician and producer Questlove, a native Philadelphian, shared a similar message. “I challenge you to step outside your comfort zone,” he said. “Socialize and mix it up with people who don’t look like you.”

Graduating senior and incoming Pennsylvania State University freshman Jasir Arms spoke to his classmates’ resilience and strength.

“We are built to withstand anything that is thrown at us…Class of 2018, we are the roses that grew from concrete,” he said, referencing a poem by legendary rapper Tupac Shakur.

While the energy stayed high all day, the crowd exploded when Mrs. Obama appeared onstage.

“College is the investment that no one can take away from you,” she said. “There is nothing more important than your education. It’s more important than celebrating the NBA draft. I’m sorry, but you are all the stars.”

Mrs. Obama acknowledged the extraordinary difficulties that many students face, and she reflected on her experiences as a first-generation college student coming to the Ivy League from the South Side of Chicago.

“There are all these people out there telling you what you can’t do,” she said. “I am so proud of you all. You did what I did. You ignored the haters.”

Obama had one key piece of advice for students: “You will have some struggles, and that’s ok. But when you hit those road blocks, when you have trouble in that class, when you feel like you’re falling behind, you have to ask for help. No one gets through college on their own.”

“We need you all to be successful, we need you all to strive for the greatest heights you can imagine for yourselves. We love you so much. And we have such high hopes for you,” said the former first lady.

“You have everything it takes to succeed…You can do anything you put your mind to.”