“Practice your courage.”
This was one of many powerful pieces of advice from Former First Lady Michelle Obama, who lead the annual Beating the Odds Summit at Howard University on July 23. Now in its fifth year, the summit is designed to provide guidance to first generation students and help them overcome the barriers that may prevent them from arriving on campus to start their postsecondary journey.
Starting college marks a major milestone for students, especially for those who are the first in their families to attend college. But the phenomenon known as Summer Melt , in which financial constraints, anxiety about leaving home, or enrollment requirements, can lead students to think they don’t belong on a college campus - and they never show up to start their classes.
The day-long summit included panel discussions and workshops developed to help students heading to college this fall understand what to expect from the first year experience.
In addition to addressing many of the large-scale obstacles that can prevent students from arriving on campus to start class, Mrs. Obama and fellow participants including best-selling author and speaker Wes Moore, NFL star Malcolm Jenkins, and Beating the Odds alumni provided wide-ranging advice on managing the emotional expectations of going to college.
Speakers noted that even small tasks such as going to class, maintaining healthy eating habits, and engaging regularly with professors and advisors are brand new concepts to incoming freshmen, but are critical to academic success. Panelists took care to address these topics and more, including managing stress and taking care of mental health.
"I just want you to know: You can do this. You belong here. This was not a mistake."
Afternoon workshops were hosted by The Opportunity Network (OppNet) , which connects students from historically and systematically underrepresented communities to college access and success, internships, career opportunities, and personal and professional networks. At this year's Beating the Odds Summit, their team facilitated discussions on college transition, success, and career planning, with an intentional focus on addressing topics like microaggressions, diversity on campuses, self-care and mental health, budget and time management, and navigating college campuses.
Perseverance became a theme of the day. “If you’re committed to winning, the obstacles won’t matter,” Malcolm Jenkins shared. “The difference between winners and losers is that winners do not quit.”
“You belong in the room,” said Wes Moore, CEO of Robin Hood. “You’re there [in that room] because that room would be incomplete if you weren’t there ...you’re there because you’re built for this.”
Mrs. Obama closed by encouraging students to continue to inspire their peers. “Reach back and pull someone up with you. Think of yourselves as mentors now. That’s how we keep multiplying ourselves.”