(CNSNews.com) - Speaking to students at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta on Monday, first lady Michelle Obama stressed the value of higher education for everyone.
"Do you hear what I'm telling you?" she asked the students. "Because I'm giving you some insights that a lot of rich kids all over the country -- they know this stuff, and I want you to know it, too. Because you have got to go and get your education. You've got to."
Mrs. Obama went to Atlanta to take part in a back-to-school "prep" rally with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other administration officials. She told students they must prepare for college now, and learn how to "rally when you get knocked down along the way," just as she did.
In the middle of her speech, someone in the audience fainted, and that's when Mrs. Obama veered off-script:
"And that's what the second part of this prep rally is about -- it's about rallying when things go wrong," Mrs. Obama was saying when the student fainted:
"She's okay? It's okay, that happens to a lot of people who have to stand up for a long time. We need one of our medics here. We've got a young girl who fainted. But it happens all the time. She's going to be okay. Sometimes standing up -- if anybody is starting to feel tired standing up, bend your knees -- and eat your breakfast and lunch. (Laughter.) You okay? Make sure she's okay, too, right here. Right here. Everybody else feeling okay?"
"Yes!" the students shouted.
"Are you all still fired up and ready to -- are you listening to me?" Mrs. Obama asked.
"Yes!" the students responded.
"Do you hear what I'm telling you?"
"Yes!" they said.
"Because I'm giving you some insights that a lot of rich kids all over the country -- they know this stuff, and I want you to know it, too. Because you have got to go and get your education. You've got to.
"And there are going to be plenty of times, you guys -- have you dealt with situations where you just feel like you want to give up? Like it's just too hard? Like everything is going wrong, you don't have the support you need; that every time you try, you get something right, something else happens -- right? You think that's never happened to me? You think somebody like me has never had any problems?
"Well, let me tell you, I still remember how one of my high school counselors told me that I shouldn't apply to Princeton. They told me I would never make it there, that I was setting my sights too high -- can you believe that? She told me, don't bother.
"But let me tell you something -- that stuck with me. It made me a little uncertain, it did. It threw me off a little bit. But let me tell you, it made me mad, too. But I didn't let those emotions get the best of me. Instead, I focused on getting good grades. I focused on signing up for activities, lining up my recommendations from teachers and mentors. And in the end, I ended up showing that counselor just how wrong she was -- because look at where I am right now." (Applause.)
Mrs. Obama told the students she knows that many of them are dealing with tougher challenges than she faced:
"You might live in a neighborhood where you have to watch your back even -- every time you leave the house. You might have friends who make fun of you because you're trying to get good grades. Or maybe your parents aren't around; maybe your folks are struggling just to pay the bills. Maybe you've lost somebody to guns or drugs. I don't know -- all of that is tough stuff for anyone to deal with, especially when you are still trying to grow up."
She told the students that those disadvantages could make them better college material than young people who have it easy:
"And let me tell you something, here is the secret to what you all have that a lot of other kids don't -- a lot of you already have that kind of grit, because all the challenges you're facing right now at home, in your neighborhood, those experiences are making you tougher. They're making you stronger. Those are advantages. They're not disadvantages. And now that -- you've got to just learn how to use that grit to help you get to and through college. It's the same determination -- you already have it.
"So if there is anybody telling you that you're not college material -- anyone -- I want you to brush them off. Prove them wrong...."