By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY
ATLANTA (AP) _ During her trip Monday to Georgia, first lady Michelle Obama began her day at an Atlanta high school where she toured a college fair, met with a small group of students and held a “prep rally” before hitting the campaign trail to raise money and rally support for Senate candidate Michelle Nunn. Mrs. Obama was accompanied on her visit by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Here are five things to know about Mrs. Obama’s visit to Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta:
During a tour of the school’s college fair, Mrs. Obama walked around with four current students as they asked questions of the college recruiters.
“Alright, this is your show. I have a junior and I want to hear what you are asking,” she said to the students, encouraging them to ask questions.
It wasn’t the first time Mrs. Obama mentioned her daughters, Sasha and Malia. Later, she talked about discussions she has had with them about college.
“I try to tell my children it doesn’t matter the name of the school. It has to be the right fit,” she said, adding she would have liked to have visited more colleges before deciding on Princeton University. “I looked at brochures. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
As the group went from booth to booth, Mrs. Obama asked recruiters about the importance of SAT scores and opportunities for high school students to earn credit for college before they graduate.
Leading the group was Alexandria Jones, 18, a recent graduate of the high school who now attends Kennesaw State University. Jones told the first lady that she had taken several courses at Georgia State University before graduating high school.
Jones received credit for those classes and will be considered a sophomore next semester. She estimated those early courses will save her about $5,000 in college costs.
“At first it was scary but you really don’t have to tell them you are an early college student. They treat you like a regular student,” Jones said. “Most of the professors they were in shock _ `Wow, you are still in high school and taking classes here?’ _ So it really was a great experience.”
Bria Carrithers, a 21-year-old senior at Spellman College, was among a small group of recruiters meeting with high schoolers during the college fair, which drew about 100 or so students to the cafeteria before Mrs. Obama’s visit.
Carrithers of Albany is among 75 college students from around the country selected as ambassadors of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, working to promote education and teacher diversity.
“The most important thing I tell students is: Education is key. We all have to have some higher education past a high school diploma in order to succeed in today’s world,” said Carrithers, who hopes to attend medical school and become a hematologist oncologist.
She said both her parents went to college while raising a family, which inspired her to work harder.
“It’s important that you have that foundation and that support,” Carrithers said. “If not for my parents pushing me, I don’t know where I would be.”
During the school rally, Mrs. Obama spoke about the challenges she faced growing up on the south side of Chicago. She told the students that her parents didn’t attend college, but she set higher education as an early goal for herself and worked hard to accomplish it.
“You are no better or no different than me,” she told the few hundred students gathered in the school gym. “I didn’t have money growing up. I didn’t grow up in a nice neighborhood. But I grew up and I am here.”
She recalled waking up as early as 4 a.m. to catch the bus to her school, which was across town. She also recalled a high school counselor once told her she shouldn’t apply to Princeton University.
“They told me I would never make it there, that I was setting my sights too high,” she said. “I ended up showing that counselor how wrong she was because look at where I am right now.”
During her speech, Mrs. Obama invoked the memory of Booker T. Washington High School’s most famous graduate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
She told the story of how King, as a high school student, had to stand in the aisle in the back of the school bus even when there were empty seats in front and how that motivated him to study hard and pursue a degree at Morehouse College.
“And that education prepared him to lead a movement that tore down those Jim Crow laws and gave millions of folks across the country the rights they deserved,” Mrs. Obama said. “Dr. King, Booker T. Washington, so many others worked and marched and risked their lives so that young people like you would have the chances that you have today.”
She acknowledged that many of the students listening face challenges at home, at school and in their community but called on them to develop some “grit.”
“It’s your responsibility to carry out that legacy,” she said. “Those are big responsibilities, but I want you to know that you’re not doing this alone. That’s why we’re here.”
Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP_Christina.