On this sunny Thursday afternoon FLOTUS joined 37 juniors and seniors from Chicago public high schools for the first full day of a four day visit to Howard University. The annual college visit, which was started 11 years ago by then-Howard students from Chicago, is called "Escape to the Mecca." (Howard's nickname is "the Mecca" signifying it's central and historical place among historically Black colleges and universities.)
FLOTUS, joined by the actor and rapper Bow Wow, met the students at about 2 pm as they toured Frazier Hall, one of four dormitories that house freshman women at the university. The first lady, Bow Wow and about a dozen students, stopped by two dorm rooms. The first was a double. The second was a single. The rooms were fairly typical dormitory style. In the single room, the twin-bed was neatly tucked with a purple comforter. Shoes were lined up in front of the window. The room's occupant, whose name appeared to be Patrice according to a sign on the wall, also had a portfolio laid out on her desk with her resume in the pocket. Patrice was not in the room and did not get to meet FLOTUS, who appreciated her room. "This isn't bad," Obama said as she stepped inside. Obama encouraged the visiting high school students to step in and look around too. "You might be living here. I'm just visiting," she said. Student: "This is huge. This is bigger than my room at home."
FLOTUS left Frazier hall and walked into an outdoor area in between the freshman girls' dorms called the quad. As she walked with the gaggle of students, they laughed as she spoke with them. "These are all residence halls," said the group's tour guide Patrick Scott, pointing to the four brick buildings surrounding the open square. As FLOTUS posed for photos with the students from Chicago, female Howard students inside the dorms shouted hello through open windows. "Hi Michelle!!!" several young women screamed. That prompted other women in surrounding dorms to also shout hello. "Michelllllle! First lady! We love you." FLOTUS waved. Then she threw up "the quad," a hand signal that symbolizes the freshman girl dorms made by putting two hands together in the shape of a square. The women in the dorms were thrilled and shouted in excitement. "Michelle! Michelle! First lady Michelle please," a young woman shouted through a screened window.
FLOTUS and the students then went over to the Blackburn building, a central hub on campus where she and Bow Wow held a roundtable with the high school students in an eatery area called the "punchout." Bow Wow led the conversation.
According to university officials, 23 of the students in the group of Chicago high schoolers had been accepted to Howard. Thirteen of those students had been awarded full-tuition scholarships. "I'm very proud of you guys," Bow Wow said, after starting off by shouting out Chicago neighborhoods. FLOTUS pumped her fist when he said "south side." "I remember my first time voting, I voted for her husband. For Barack Obama. That was the first time I ever voted and I remember him saying how much they needed us, the youth. It's us that's going to shape this world and turn it around. It's us that are going to be the new leaders. Maybe the next president is right here in this room. … It's gon' be haters. We know that. We deal with haters. It's ways to defeat the haters. But we know success is the most powerfullest things that you guys can do. So I want to wish you guys good luck." FLOTUS nodded as he spoke.
FLOTUS commended Bow Wow, a child rapping prodigy who did not attend college, for his support for education and said she was "very proud of this young man. I have grown very fond of him. We've done some good work together and his commitment to education, his commitment to young people and BET's commitment it just means the world to me and I know it means the world to all of you." (She appeared on 106 & Park, the hip hop talk show that Bow Wow co-hosts, last year as part of the roll out of her education initiative.) She welcomed the students to Washington DC and Howard, calling it "one of the finest universities in this country." "For those of you from Chicago, the weather here is better. It's not hard when you're from Chicago." She encouraged the students to go to college or pursue other higher education. "No longer is high school the bar. That is not enough in today's globalizing economy." She mentioned the Obama administration's efforts to increase the number of high school students who graduate from college. "While there's a lot of work that needs to be done on our end," she said, referring to government, philanthropy and other resources, "you don't have time to wait for everybody to fix the system." She told the students they had to be responsible for their own educations. "This transition for some of you may be a little bit scary," Obama said before telling them about her own transition. "I didn't even go on a college tour." She chose the colleges she applied to, including Howard, Northwestern University, and University of Wisconsin-Madison, because "the pictures looked nice. That was all I had." She concluded: "We'll just talk. We'll get candid and then when press leaves we'll get real candid."
Bow Wow called on two students, one from Whitney Young High in Chicago (the first lady's alma mater) and another student who was from Chicago and had attended Howard, to share their experiences with the first lady. The high school student said she planned to pay her enrollment fee for Howard that day and "this has been the most phenomenal day of my life."
After the two students spoke, the press was escorted out for the more candid conversation.