First Lady Plugs College for Low-Income Students, Says ‘Grit’ As Important As Grades

By Penny Starr | November 13, 2013 | 10:32 AM EST

First lady Michelle Obama plugs higher education at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. ( Starr)

( – First Lady Michelle Obama turned from exercise to education on Tuesday, telling students at an inner-city Washington school, “No matter what path you choose, no matter what dreams you have, you have got to do whatever it takes to continue your education after high school.”

Mrs. Obama said she will continue to spread that message all across the country over the next few years; and she indicated that college costs should not be a problem:

“We, with the help of (Education Secretary Arne Duncan) and the President and everyone in this administration, we're going to do everything we can to help connect you to all the resources that are available to help you on your journey --- many resources that weren't around when I was your age.

“For example, we're going to tell students about our College Navigator and College Scorecard that can help you find affordable programs that fit your interests, your goals. We also want to make sure that you know about websites like, which helps you apply for grants and loans, and also provides you with a year-by-year checklist so you know what you need to be doing to get you to college, or whatever program you need to get to.”

As previously reported, the administration’s College Scorecard, now being developed, will create a national rating system that defines what a good college is and financially rewards or punishes colleges depending on how they rank in the government’s system.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Obama used herself as an example to motivate tenth-graders at Bell Mulicultural High School, where 98 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals and 88 percent of the student population is Hispanic.

“I set my sights high. I decided I was going to Princeton. But I quickly realized that for me, a kid like me, getting into Princeton wasn't just going to happen on its own.”

Mrs. Obama talked about overcoming doubts and adversity, saying it’s attitude and commitment that count:

“You decide how high you set your goals. You decide how hard you're going to work for those goals. You decide how you're going to respond when something doesn't go your way.

“And here's the thing: Studies show that those kinds of skills --- skills like grit, determination, skills like optimism and resilience --- those skills can be just as important as your test scores or your grade scores -- or your grades. And so many of you already have those skills because of everything you've already overcome in your lives.

“Maybe you've had problems at home and you've had to step up, take on extra responsibilities for your family. Maybe you come from a tough neighborhood, and you've been surrounded by things like violence and drugs. Maybe one of your parents has lost a job and you've had to struggle just to make it here today.

“One of the most important things you all must understand about yourselves is that those experiences are not weaknesses. They're not something to be ashamed of. Experiences like those can make you stronger and more determined. They can teach you all kinds of skills that you could never learn in a classroom --- the skills that will lead you to success anywhere in life. But first, you've got to apply those skills toward getting an education.”

The event, billed by the White House as part of the First Lady’s effort “to expand her focus on youth empowerment and education,” also featured a “conversation” between Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the students.


Since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the amount of outstanding federal student loan debt owed to the government has skyrocketed, increasing by 463 percent. The balance owed currently stands at $674,580,000,000.00 compared to $119,803,000,000.00, where it stood in January 2009, according to the Financial Management Service’s latest monthly treasury statement.