Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Banks & More Inspire For College Signing Day 2019 At UCLA

College can be rough. The Toy Story catch phrase, “To Infinity and Beyond” was totally in reference to the loads of homework that we students receive on a daily basis. Food like ramen will most definitely become your favorite meal… for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But despite all of the hiccups, attending college is still worth it. The degree you will receive opens doors you could not open before, and the knowledge you attain will broaden your worldview. College allows students to create memories and relationships that last a lifetime. Whether you are attending a 4-year university, completing a program at a community college or finishing your degree through the military, selecting the path to college is a decision you should be proud of. But hey, don’t just take my word for it! Former First Lady Michelle Obama agrees and that was the cornerstone of her message at College Signing Day 2019, proudly hosted by UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. 

College Signing Day celebrates high school seniors and transfer students choosing to pursue higher education at a professional transit program, a community college, a 4-year college or the military. This is the 6th College Signing Day that Michelle Obama has partnered with Reach Higher. An initiative started during her time in the White House, now has a home with The Common Application, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to access, equity and integrity in the college admission process. The importance of pursuing higher education is crucial. Her Campus had the amazing opportunity to see Former First Lady Michelle Obama speak, right here at UCLA’s own Pauley Pavilion. I was reminded of how proud I should feel to be a collegiate (and graduating) senior!

Pre-Show

LaLa Anthony (TV personality and actress) and Lil Rey Howery (Get Out, Uncle Drew) were the emcees of the event. The show started off strong with Usher as the first guest, who encouraged the crowd to "find what ignites your spark in life and go for it.” A very warm round of applause was then directed to Bebe Rexha, who got the crowd going with her lovely voice by singing. John Legend, a graduate of UPenn, imparted wisdom by stating, “I wouldn’t be here, where I am today, without the University of Pennsylvania.” The importance of student athletes being acknowledged was also stressed by Nneka Ogwumike (LA Sparks and WNBA Champion), Candace Parker (LA Sparks and WNBA Champion), Cari Champion (ESPN SportsCenter), Adam Rippon (Olympic Skater), Rodney McLeod Jr. (NFL- Philadelphia Eagles), Josh Norman (NFL- Washington Redskins) and Andre Ingram (NBA South Bay Lakers). The crowd was electrified by the appearance of actors and comedians such as Don Cheadle (Avengers), Yvonne Orji (Insecure), Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) and Billy Eichner (Parks And Recreation) who graced the stage encouraging attendees to reach their goals despite any adversity.

The high energy level continued throughout with celebrities such as Lea Michele (Glee), Keiynan Lonsdale (The Flash), Patton Oswalt (The King Of Queens), Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead), Hannah Hart (My Drunk Kitchen), Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect), Vella Lovell (Crazy Ex-Girlfrend), Jes Macallan (Legends of Tomorrow), Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) and Nicole Scherzinger (Pussycat Dolls) who all participated in a frenzied t-shirt giveaway.

Not only was the star power through the roof, but popular influencers such as Baby Ariel, Aureylian and Anne Munition (Twitch Creators) were also present. McDonald’s representatives also made an appearance to showcase their initiative in providing full scholarships and tuition assistance to both their employers and the community, as well as promoting entrepreneurship. Adding to the megawat stardom were Kelly Rowland (Destiny’s Child), Ashley Simpson, Evan Ross (ATL), Ray Fisher (Justice League-Cyborg) and Sophia Bush (One Tree Hill). Four members in the audience were lucky enough to win an ultra plush Shinola bike (worth $1,000), hand-assembled in Detroit and presented by former Teen Vogue Editor Elaine Welteroth and Lena Waithe (Master of None).

Showtime With Michelle Obama

Conan O’Brien came on stage to a screaming crowd (college kids do stay up late, after all). He was tasked with the best position of the night: he got to introduce Michelle Obama! Pauley Pavilion has seen a lot of excitement in it’s 100 years of existence. But nothing could compare to the sheer adulation, cheering, crying, screaming (and in one instance - fainting) that occurred when Michelle Obama walked across the stage. She greeted the standing ovation with her characteristic warmness, “Hello, Los Angeles.” With those three simple words, the crowd went into a frenzy again. Mrs. Obama spoke to an estimated crowd of 9,000 students who became immersed in every anecdote and piece of advice that she gave. “You don’t do this alone,” she stated among the chaos.

She wore a Compton College hoodie, despite her own alumna status at both Princeton and Harvard University to stress the importance of supporting higher education at all levels. She shared her own experience about wanting to attend elite schools in high school, and being told she “was reaching too high.” To the delight of the crowd and the world, she “didn’t believe the haters” and chose to “believe in the truth of her own story.” She then told everyone in the crowd to “keep reaching high for themselves and for their future.” 

She closed her inspirational  speech by reminding the audience that they were all going places and that people “better make room since that's what this is all about." In a powerful statement, Michelle Obama stressed the necessity of “making people make room for you for where you belong.” To bring a sense of real life action to these words, she brought out students who were being honored for continuing their path to higher education. Among the students honored and mentioned were Genesis Jackson, a Regents Scholarship recipient who will be attending UCLA this fall to study Dance and African American studies (Go Bruins!) and Lauren Stuart, a current Pierce Community College student who will be attending Howard University in the fall to study Public Relations and Journalism.

Wrapping Up

At the end of the event, the guests all jammed out on stage to hip hop music. It would have been the perfect ending to a perfect day - but it was not quite the end. Just when we were all recovering from the excitement, we were treated with more delight. Musical a-cappella group, Penatonix treated us to a perfectly pitched harmonic rendition of one of their songs. And then, the event of a lifetime was over. It was a bittersweet moment. One can never have enough of Michelle Obama. Her intelligence, confidence, grace, beauty and charismatic personality radiates in everything she does and says. And yet, despite the ending of the event, her impact feels as strong today as it did when she was standing on the stage of Pauley. She inspires people to be the best and truly makes you believe that you are only just beginning to start your journey to success. So, thank you Michelle Obama and all the celebs who attended as well as the students in the room. Some of these students may become future doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, officers  PR managers. But most importantly, they are the future and sitting amongst them, I realize the future is very bright.