Michelle Obama will visit UCLA in May to celebrate students heading to college

First Lady Michelle Obama gives the commencement address at UC Merced in 2009.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Former First Lady Michelle Obama will visit UCLA in May to headline her annual national celebration of all high school seniors and transfer students who commit to pursuing higher education.

Obama has said that her school counselors did not encourage her, as a black student from a working-class family in Chicago, to aim high for college. She went on to earn degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School — fueling her desire to push higher education, especially to students like herself whose parents did not attend college.

In 2014, she launched Reach Higher, a college access initiative which includes an annual College Signing Day. UCLA will be the first West Coast campus to host the May 1 festivities, which previously have been held in New York, San Antonio, Philadelphia and Detroit.

How to score tickets for the big day, which will also feature big-name athletes and other celebrities? By invitation only. More than 9,000 California high school and community college students will be selected by their schools to attend the event at Pauley Pavilion. Others will be able to watch via livestream.


Thousands more students will participate in regional festivities at the University of California’s eight other undergraduate campuses.

Eric Waldo, Reach Higher’s executive director, emphasized UC’s commitment to “opening the doors of college opportunity to all Californians and students across the country.”

About four in 10 UC undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college. About six in 10 California students pay no tuition because financial aid covers it for those with an annual family income of $80,000 or less.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said he hopes the events will send a clear message to students that a college education is attainable, regardless of family income or background.


“As a first-generation college graduate myself, I am proud that nearly a third of UCLA undergraduates also go on to become first-generation college graduates,” he said in a statement. “Public institutions like UCLA must always strive to make higher education accessible, through outreach efforts that encourage students to apply and resources that support their success while they are here.”

Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe