First Lady Edges into Policy Role on Education ; Michelle Obama Draws on Her Life to Encourage Pursuit of Higher Studies

Article excerpt

She began a program on Tuesday that seeks to increase the number of low-income students who study for a college degree.

Michelle Obama, after nearly five years of evangelizing exercise and good eating habits, began a new initiative on Tuesday that seeks to increase the number of low-income students who pursue a college degree. The goals of the program reflect the first lady's own life and will immerse her more directly in her husband's policies.

"I'm here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story," she told students at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington on Tuesday, according to an advance text of her remarks. "The details might be a little different, but so many of the challenges and triumphs will be just the same."

The first lady said that whether students want to be doctors, teachers, mechanics or software designers, "you have got to do whatever it takes to continue your education after high school -- whether that's going to a community college, or getting a technical certificate, or completing a training opportunity, or heading off to a four-year college."

Aides in Mrs. Obama's office said she would visit other schools around the country and use social media to appeal to students, conveying the message that higher education is a door to a wider world. Mrs. Obama, the daughter of a pump worker at the City of Chicago Waterworks, graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

Many supporters have been eager to see Mrs. Obama use her resume - - before coming to Washington, she was an associate at the Sidley Austin law firm and a health care executive in Chicago -- and her role as the first black first lady to expand her agenda. Her best- known initiative promotes healthy eating.

Some of her most widely publicized appearances -- dancing at middle schools, doing push-ups on daytime television and promoting the arts in a video message at the Oscars -- have made her popular and accessible. But she has also been derided by critics who hoped she would use her historic position to move more deeply into policy.

Others argue that Mrs. Obama has had to move cautiously and avoid taking on causes that might be seen as controversial or as beneficial only to certain segments of the population.

"She just could not have done this four years ago," said Catherine Allgor, a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, who has written books about first ladies. …


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