Today is College Signing Day

Michelle Obama at Temple University in 2018 / Sydney Schaefer, The Temple News

While it’s impossible to ignore the elephant in the room this year, in this piece I want to try — or least put a different spin on things.

Today, May 1, has become known as College Signing Day, thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, launched in 2014. Modeled after the fanfare and excitement of student athletes’ school decisions, Obama sought to create a celebratory space for all soon-to-be high school grads to share their plans for the future, whether they include a two- or four-year college, a certificate or training program, the military, or some other option.

The effort has grown over the years, spotlighting scores of celebrities at a flagship event in a different city annually, and inviting schools and communities nationwide to host their own programs and celebrations. I had the pleasure of attending Philadelphia’s epic gathering in 2018 when Ms. Obama headlined, and the energy in the building was real!

Figuring out post-high school plans is not a simple task for many young people, particularly those coming from under-resourced schools and communities. This makes College Signing Day all the more special, as it’s not simply a moment, but a culmination of many pieces working together to craft a student’s future.

Looking ahead, while some colleges and universities have pushed their decision deadlines back to accommodate for the world’s present uncertainties, others have stayed the course and expect students to commit today. Many students haven’t been able to visit schools or speak with contacts, so they are putting their faith in mailings, websites, and virtual tours.

Yesterday my center co-hosted a virtual conversation to allow current high school seniors admitted to Penn to ask any questions as they make their final decisions. We also welcomed other incoming members of Penn 2024 who’d already committed but were looking to get better prepared for this next major transition in their lives. The session ran long, with current undergrads joking with next year’s freshmen, and everyone feeling the love. As I closed out the web conference and let our high school seniors know how proud we are of them, I was so glad that we made the time to do this. They deserve all the interaction, recognition, and celebration that we can give.

So today, lift up the high school grads in your life and share their next steps with the world. If they don’t know what they’re doing yet, take the opportunity to have that conversation, connect them to resources and additional information, work with them to call their prospective colleges and ask for their financial aid package to be reviewed again if that’s an issue, and help them talk through whatever else they may need. As their futures become clearer, keep celebrating the steps — big and small. This is the energy that we need right now.

With that, I will close with a HUGE CONGRATS to the Class of 2020, and especially my own senior, Nia Peterson. You are navigating this uncharted path, building on your years of growth, and shining! Keep going, and I’ll see you on campus. #Penn2024

Dad’s amazing selfie skills. Who knew?

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