Michelle Obama represented the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on a national stage Saturday by sporting a UMBC T-shirt in a video promoting College Signing Day.
The unexpected shout-out from the former first lady thrilled UMBC students and alumni, and spotlighted the achievements of the university.
“To celebrate our eighth annual #CollegeSigningDay, I’m wearing a college shirt from UMBC, an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution in Baltimore County, MD,” Obama said in a statement accompanying the video. She appears alongside celebrities, such as Usher, Chloe and Halle Bailey, and Conan O’Brien, celebrating students for their upcoming college paths or military careers.
College Signing Day is an event typically associated with high school athletes selecting the colleges or universities where they plan to attend and continue their athletic careers. Obama started an initiative in 2015 to encourage all students to pursue education beyond high school.
In a six-minute video, Obama praises high school graduates for completing school during a year fraught with the coronavirus pandemic. She assures students who made a decision to attend community colleges or universities, enlist in the military or enroll in training programs that their investments in the future will pay off.
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“Your education has the power to transform your future and your family’s future,” Obama said.
Alicia Wilson, a UMBC alumna, had for years quietly recommended to personal contacts that Obama sport a UMBC shirt for the annual celebration. This year, it stuck.
“It’s actually fitting because of [UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski III’s] retirement and just the significant strides that UMBC has made just over the past year, but really decades and decades of work, being a place where young people from all sorts of backgrounds can achieve an education of excellence and be put on a path to having really productive lives,” said Wilson, vice president for economic development at the Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System.
Wilson is also the chair of the CollegeBound Foundation, a nonprofit that provides support and counseling to students who want to attend college. She brought 350 Baltimore students to the Capital One Arena in Washington in 2018 to see Obama on her book tour.
Hrabowski, UMBC’s longtime president, is retiring in June. He’s credited with building UMBC into a top-tier research institution that, among other accolades, has the most Black undergraduates who go on to complete M.D.s and Ph.D.s in the country. The university is known as a national model in the education community for its Meyerhoff Scholars Program, a full scholarship for students from a variety of backgrounds to focus on the advancement of minorities in STEM fields.
Wilson said Obama’s decision to represent UMBC demonstrates that the university is a leader in supporting women and students of color who thrive in academic settings with the right resources.
“[Obama] could have worn any other school. The fact that she chose in this moment to lift up a school that really is about uplifting the best of our communities, regardless of their background, really speaks to the hope of what a college education means for people from a whole host of backgrounds,” Wilson said. “But also, it uplifts an institution that is doing it well. It’s just an honor to have her wear the shirt. And especially during this moment when Dr. Hrabowski is celebrating his retirement and his contribution to the world.”