Michelle Obama

Remarks at the 2016 School Counselors of the Year Award Ceremony - Jan. 28, 2016

Michelle Obama
January 28, 2016— The White House in Washington, D.C.
2nd Annual School Counselors of the Year Award Ceremonry
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Thank you, everyone. (Applause.) Thank you all so much. Rest yourselves. Hi, everyone. Having fun? (Laughter.) We’re at the White House! (Applause.) Okay. It’s okay, we can say it. We’re here, it’s exciting. Welcome to our second annual School Counselor of the Year White House award ceremony. We are just thrilled to have you here.

I want to start by thanking Wyatt for that very heartfelt introduction. We are so proud of him and students like him, and I can’t wait to see everything that you’re going to achieve in the years ahead. We’re so proud of you. And I know there are many students out here who are here supporting the men and women on this stage, and we’re proud of you all. Just keep working hard.

I also want to thank acting Secretary King, who is here today. Thank you so much for being here, for all your work. I want to recognize Richard Wong, the Executive Director of the American School Counselor’s Association -- there you go, Richard. How are you? It’s good to see you -- saw me looking for you -- (laughter) -- as well as Jill Cook and the entire team at ASCA. Thank you all. (Applause.)

And of course, most of all, I want to thank all these guys up on this stage. I want to thank school counselors across this country for everything you all do for our young people. I know firsthand the kind of impact that you all have on a child’s life. Growing up, so many of us, including me, were fortunate enough to have someone in our lives -– some caring adult who decided that they were going to be on our team; someone who pushed us when we wouldn’t push ourselves, who supported us maybe when we didn’t have the support that we needed; someone who refused to give up on us no matter how badly we screwed up. And so many of us have gotten to where we are today because of that person, because of their unyielding love and their unwavering belief in our potential.

And for so many young people in this country, that person is you –- our school counselors. That’s the kind of impact you all have every single day, with every recommendation letter you write, with every college visit you organize, with every hour you spend taking students through their struggles and walking them through their applications, and the FAFSA forms, and helping them make good choices for their future. And I know you don’t always get the recognition you deserve for what you do, but if anyone in this country has any doubt about the impact you all are having, today, I just want to share just a few testimonials from students about these amazing men and women, this year’s finalists.

And I want to start with Kris Owen from Pickerington, Ohio. One of her students wrote -- and this is a quote -- she said, “She loves what she does.” She says, “It’s not an obligation, it’s an opportunity for her to impact the lives of students. She has changed my life and she has changed so many other lives because she believes in students.”

And then there’s Rob Lundien from Kansas City, Missouri. One of his students said, “I am the first in my family to go to college and it is because of him that I am going,” and “I don’t know what I would do without Mr. Lundien.”

One of Kim Reykdal’s students at Olympia High School in Olympia, Washington, wrote -- she said, “One day, Ms. Reykdal approached me during lunch to give me a scholarship application highlighted and annotated just for me.” (Laughter.) She says, “I sometimes think she cares too much.” (Laughter.) She says, “If she has information for a student, she will hunt them down” just to give it to them. Way to go.

And then there’s Samantha Vidal from Franklin, Indiana. And one of her students wrote, during my lifetime with Ms. Vidal, I found that if I didn’t know the answer, it was okay to get things wrong sometimes. “She also let me know that as long as I do my best” it’s okay.

And when asked about Durenda Johnson Ward from Raleigh, North Carolina, one of her students simply said, “She helps me see myself as a beautiful young woman” even though it might be hard to do that myself at times. “She has truly helped me see who I am and what I am capable of.”

And finally, there’s our 2016 School Counselor of the Year winner, Katherine Pastor from Flagstaff, Arizona. Yay! (Applause.) But I want to say a little bit more about Katherine. I want to tell you about the impact she’s had not just on her students, but on the entire school district and on the counseling profession as a whole.

During her tenure as a school counselor, Katherine created a FAFSA Completion Day and a College Application Completion Day at Flagstaff High School. She helped build a new Career and Counseling Center. She coordinated school counselors statewide to consolidate all the -- Arizona’s college fairs into one single week so that they could reach more students in remote areas. She lobbied her school district to pay for counselors to attend the comprehensive college assessment training. And today, half the counselors in Arizona who’ve completed this training are from her district alone.

And I could probably go on. I was telling Katherine I know more about her and just met her a few minutes ago. (Laughter.) I felt so embarrassed. I know this woman. (Laughter.) But I think all the results speak for themselves.

In just seven short years, Flagstaff High School has been -- they’ve seen a 13-percent increase in college acceptance rates, and a 50-percent increase in the number of colleges that visit their campus. By the way, in her spare time, Katherine is an adjunct professor at Northern Arizona University. She’s training the next generation of school counselors.

But perhaps most breathtaking of all is that in 2013, Katherine was diagnosed with a brain tumor and she had to undergo surgery, and then endure extensive rehab to learn to walk and talk again. But she refused to let any of those challenges stop her from serving her students. And I could read dozens of testimonials from young people like Wyatt whose lives have been transformed, but there is one in particular that I think perfectly describes the impact Katherine is having.

This young woman wrote -- she said, Ms. Pastor, is -- she epitomizes genuine advocacy for students’ success and often believes in them more than they believe in themselves. Students see this, and they're inspired to reach higher, both in school and in their personal life. Ms. Pastor wants nothing more than to see students succeed and become the best versions of themselves. The student said, “That is school counseling.” Yes. (Applause.)

I couldn’t have said it better myself. That's why I stole her quote. (Laughter.) And I’m standing here today because I believe that every child in this country deserves that kind of support and attention, and every child deserves the resources they need to succeed in school and then complete higher education.

But when the average student-to-counselor ratio in this country is 471 to 1 –- and in some places, there’s only 1 counselor for every 1,000 students -- let’s just stop there for a moment as we think about the goals we want our kids to achieve and just think about what we're asking these men and women to do -- when too many counselors just don’t have what they need to do their jobs. When we look at all of that, what we know is that we still have a lot of work to do. And that’s why we’ve reached out to companies and organizations across the country and asked them to step up on behalf of our school counselors.

And today, I am thrilled to announce a few of these commitments. Merck has agreed to invest $1 million to expand the Counselors for Computing initiative run by the National Council of Women in Information Technology. They’re going to help 1,400 school counselors advise up to a [half a million students] on pursuing careers in computer science. Good stuff. (Applause.)

Google has stepped up as well with their new virtual reality technology, those Google Cardboards. You've seen those. If you haven’t they're really cool. (Laughter.) Any student with access to the Internet will soon be able to take an exciting 3D tour of colleges across the country. So young people who can’t afford to visit a school -- and we know how important it is for kids to be able to get onto campuses and just see what college life feels like -- that's a big part of getting kids excited -- well, now kids can do the next best thing and get a 3D tour from their own homes or their classrooms. I actually taped one of these virtual tours, it’s really, really cool.

And finally, I’m proud to announce that in this year’s federal budget, there is an additional $15 million for our Talent Search program that helps disadvantaged young people fill out their FAFSA and college applications and pursue higher education. And we can thank our Secretary and his team for that hard work. (Applause.)

So we’re making progress. But I want to be very clear: As far as I’m concerned, we’re just getting started. I mean, there is so much more that has to be done, and no people understand that better than all of you -- what you’re facing, what you’re being asked to do with so little. But for me, this isn’t just about getting more programs and resources for our school counselors today. All of this is really about creating a movement to support our school counselors for years, even generations to come. It’s so true. (Applause.)

And that starts with simple awareness by making sure that people across this country truly understand the critical role that you play in educating our kids and preparing them for good jobs and successful lives. I mean, we know our teachers are great. We reward them, we celebrate them. But sometimes we miss those other players in the background who have so much to do and so much control over the success of a student’s life going forward.

And that’s why we started hosting the School Counselor of the Year ceremony here at the White House. We did this because we wanted to plant a flag and send a clear message that what you all do isn’t a luxury. It’s not an “extra” -- just the opposite. The work that you do is absolutely essential for the future of our kids, the future that we say we want our kids to have. Reaching those goals, getting more kids into college, getting them better educated and better prepared for the jobs of the future -- we’ve got to support you if we want them to do that.

So I am going to commit right now, today, to hosting the third annual Counselor of the Year awards ceremony here at the White House next year. (Applause.) Now, this might be one of the last events we host -- (laughter) -- before they kick us out in January of 2017, but we’re going to do it. We’re going to get you back in here. And we’re going to keep shining that light on the work that you do, and ensure that whatever -- whoever lives here next will continue this tradition and this work. You all truly deserve nothing less. You all are heroes.

And I want to end today as I started –- by once again thanking you. Thank you so much for your commitment to our kids’ potential. Thank you for the love and encouragement you give them every single day. You look at young people like Wyatt -- there’s nothing more fulfilling than knowing that you did something to create a young man like this. You all are amazing, and I look forward to continuing our work together, and to honor and support you in the months and years ahead. Because no matter where I am, we’re a team now. (Applause.) So as we said, we’re stuck with each other, right? (Laughter and applause.)

And now, it is my pleasure to introduce our 2016 Counselor of the Year, a woman who inspires us all –- from young people in her community to aspiring counselors across the country -- Katherine Pastor. (Applause.)

Speech taken from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/28/remarks-first-lady-school-counselor-year.