Beating the Odds

Michelle Obama at a rally in 2014

Michelle Obama’s Beating the Odds summit gave students a chance to take charge of their own education.
Image: Nisarg Lakhmani /

Students do not get a lot of say in how schools are run. Even though their education is supposedly for their benefit, little attention is paid to even the most sincere concerns or well-informed suggestions for change as long as they’re coming from children, teenagers, and even young adults. The overriding message is that students don’t know what’s good for them.

But now we have studies backing up things that students have been saying for decades, like a later start time being better for teenage minds and bodies. And more research is putting to bed the myth that any student who is falling behind is doing so out of laziness or lack of motivation.

This past week, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a summit of more than 130 students at the White House. They came from a broad spread of demographics, but all of those students shared one thing: they strode a path through their education that was filled with obstacles–poverty, disability, families in upheaval. And the goal of this summit is to all them to work together to brainstorm education resources for people on those same paths. Together, they can be listened to as each one of them individually might not be.

Obama has always stood on a platform advocating higher education. This summit acknowledged the difficulties many have in striving towards that goal and sought solutions for those difficulties without the trite and useless “Anyone can do it” and “Hard work will get you what you want.” In a fair world, those would be true. But in the world we live in, not so much.

Most of the attendees at this “Beating the Odds” summit are in their late teens and early twenties, and they have lived with challenges like homelessness, racism, poverty, and disability that affected their odds of succeeding in school.


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