USA First Look

How Michelle Obama surprised students at a DC high school

The former first lady made two surprise visits to public schools in Washington, D.C., once last week and once on International Women's Day on Wednesday. 

Michelle Obama leaves the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Sunday, March 5, 2017, with her husband, former US President Barack Obama.
Jose Luis Magana/AP | Caption

Former first lady Michelle Obama surprised students at Ballou STAY High School in Washington, D.C., last week, leaving what seemed to be a deep impression on a group of students going to the alternative high school.

Principal Cara Fuller personally selected the 14 students who met Ms. Obama. However, Ms. Fuller only learned about the visit an hour before it was to take place, and the students were expecting to meet the city's Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson. So when the first lady walked into the room, it came as something of a shock.

"Once she came in, it was an inspirational feeling," Alliyah Williams, 18, told The Washington Post. "She was so sweet and warm. She was like a mom."

It was an emotional scene as Obama went around the room, hugging each student before taking a seat in the circle for a discussion with them. Their school, which takes the motto, "It's never too late to earn your high school diploma," specializes in programs to educate and provide vocational training for disadvantaged students.

The students in the discussion with Obama were between the ages of 16 and 23. Some of them live in shelters, and some had been expelled from other institutions, according to Fuller.

"I think [Obama] really just wanted a school and a group of students who are typically counted out to know that they themselves are amazing and wonderful and have the talents that they need to be successful," Fuller said.

The discussion with the former first lady touched on a number of different topics, including questions about her personal experiences in the White House as well as current presidential politics.

"They just asked what her thoughts were on the current president and they were deeply concerned about the rhetoric that has been going around," said Fuller.

Obama also encouraged the students to pursue their goals, and offered specific advice to students depending on their current situations and experiences.

"She told me not to let anything get in the way, and she said don't go back and help everyone until you get where you want to be," said Ms. Williams, who told Obama that she wanted to be an anesthesiologist.

Obama also marked International Women's Day on Wednesday with another surprise visit to female students at the Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus in D.C., writing about the roundtable with 12 students afterward on Instagram

Celebrating the beauty and diversity of our country on this #InternationalWomensDay with some of the many fierce and promising girls here at DC’s Cardozo Education Campus. I loved visiting this school because it tells the American story in so many ways. Three years ago, Cardozo established its International Academy with only 150 students, but today it boasts nearly 400 who are thriving in and out of the classroom. By embracing young immigrants and their diverse cultures and contributions, Cardozo is a model for our entire country. The girls I met with today are ready to take on the world. We’ve just got to make sure that the world is ready for them.

The success of D.C. schools in particular is still an important issue for the Obamas, who are maintaining a house in the city at least until their youngest daughter, Sasha – a student at a private school – finishes high school.