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Celebrating College Signing Day at UCLA with Michelle Obama, Don Cheadle, and California Peer Leaders

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“You don’t do this alone. None of us do this alone. That’s why we put this together, because we want you all to understand how many people have your back.”

-Michelle Obama


College Signing Day lands each year on May 1, marking the deadline for many students to make their final decision on where they’ll go to college. But this day is bigger than just one student going to college, it’s about whole communities uplifting each other, supporting the pursuit of higher education, and working hard to reach their full potential together.

In this spirit, Better Make Room and Michelle Obama hosted their fifth annual College Signing Day event on May 1, 2019 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, where 10,000 high school students, educators, and mentors joined to celebrate those taking the next step to higher education and the significance it has for their community. Joining them were a number of celebrity guests, like Usher, Don Cheadle, John Legend, Kelly Rowland, and Conan O’Brien. PeerForward joined the high-energy event with a group of Peer Leaders from our Los Angeles Unified School District partner schools.

PeerForward staff and Peer Leaders from LAUSD partner schools on UCLA’s campus before the College Signing Day event.

The day was filled with music, enthusiasm, and valuable advice for students starting their college journey. When John Legend took the stage, he told students not to see a degree as just another line on a resume, but instead, to see it as an opportunity to “expand your mind, question assumptions, and think about how you can use your education to make the world a better place.”

In an especially exciting moment for the PeerForward team and Peer Leaders in the arena, Golden Globe winning actor, Don Cheadle, appeared on stage wearing a PeerForward t-shirt, showing his long-standing support for our organization. Peer Leader Merari Sandoval from Green Design Community School in Los Angeles, Calif. described it as “a really cool surprise to see up there.”

Don Cheadle presenting on stage at the 2019 Better Make Room College Singing Day event at UCLA.

When the moment finally arrived for Michelle Obama to speak to the crowd, there was an undeniable crescendo of excitement in the room. And for good reason- her own path as first-generation college student, her long record of civic engagement (including with our organization) since her time living in Chicago, Ill., and her creation of this College Signing Day celebration in 2014 has all inspired thousands to go against the odds and pursue a postsecondary education.

Sporting a t-shirt from Compton College, a public community college in Compton, Calif., Michelle Obama emphasized her support for all pursuits of higher education, telling the crowd, “You’re about to make the best investment that you can possibly make in yourself. That’s true whether you’re going to trade school, the military, a community college, or to a four-year university.”

Michelle Obama speaking to a crowd filled with 10,000 students and educators at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.

The urgency to support students as they embark on their postsecondary journeys and to make sure students know they are capable, no matter their background, of achieving their goals took a personal turn during Obama’s speech when she shared, “I had someone tell me I shouldn’t reach too high…let me tell you, that will happen to you again and again. In those times, you have to ask yourself, when are you gonna believe the haters, and when are you gonna believe the truth of your story?”

At the end of the event, four high school students took the stage to profess their college and career goals, receiving roaring applause from the crowd. This was a powerful moment for all of those sitting in the room- now, students in the crowd weren’t just cheering for a celebrity, they were cheering for their peers, their classmates, and themselves. And after hearing student voices in the crowd throughout the event speak of difficult family conversations they’d had around going to college, anxieties about moving away from home, and worries about embarking on uncharted college territory, it was these final cheers that the day was made for.