The seniors at Capital City Public Charter School experienced the usual wave of relief and anticipation after mailing off college applications Friday, as well as an added surprise: a hug from Michelle Obama.
The first lady came to their school in Northwest Washington to take part in what has become an annual tradition at some schools across the country — the College March.
Before she arrived, the seniors paraded through the hallways with college applications in hand while underclassmen cheered them along. At most schools, the march culminates at a nearby mailbox or post office. On Friday, the seniors at Capital City dropped their applications in a mailbox set up on a stage in the gymnasium, where Obama greeted them.
“Seniors, we are so incredibly proud of you,” she told the Class of 2015. “I know that it took a lot to get to this day, and there’s still more to do.”
To the younger students in the room, she said: “This is where you want to be. . . . These seniors stuck with it.”
Obama was promoting her “Reach Higher” initiative to encourage more students to go to college and earn a degree.
The president has set a goal for the United States to regain its position as a world leader in its share of college graduates by 2020. The White House hosted a summit this week to promote new efforts underway to make college more accessible and affordable, through better counseling, more seamless transitions and other reforms.
On Friday, Obama used her life story to encourage students at the high-poverty-level school to commit to higher education. She said she grew up like many of them, with parents who did not make a lot of money and living in a neighborhood where few adults had college degrees. Her path to success? “I worked my — heart out,” she said to laughter. “Some other things, too.”
Friday marked the first lady’s second trip to the charter school. She and the president visited in 2009 to tour the high-performing school and read a book to a second-grade class.
Capital City was founded in 2000 for preschool through eighth grade and opened a high school in 2008. The school now serves 975 students in pre-
kindergarten through 12th grade.
Capital City has an “expeditionary learning” approach, which emphasizes project-based education and character development. Seniors must complete an in-depth research project culminating in a paper and a presentation before they can graduate.
Obama told the students that she was returning to the school because of its strong record in college attainment.
Since its first class graduated in 2012, 100 percent of seniors have been accepted to college, according to school officials.
This year, each of the 75 seniors has submitted at least one college application, and nearly half of the students have already been admitted to at least one school, officials said.
“Here at Capital City, every student is college material,” Obama said. “This should be the reality and the model for every school in this country.”
Obama said college has become necessary in today’s economy, but she urged students not to think of it as a burden.
“Higher education is your ticket to a good job, but it’s also one of the most fun, exciting and challenging experiences you will ever have in your life,” she said.