In 2016, Karen Lopez, who was an El Rancho High School and Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera student, had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the then First Lady Mrs. Michelle Obama’s Reach for the Top: Beating The Odds summit at the White House with G1DPR founders, Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros. The summit was one of the former First Lady’s programs that helped underrepresented students gain “the tools and strategies to help them successfully transition to college and complete the next level of their education.”
Karen graduated from El Rancho High in 2016, celebrated College Signing Day, and made her way to George Washington University, in D.C. She was awarded a Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute scholarship, and through the Cisneros Foundation and G1DPR’s partnership with Mrs. Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, she was offered an opportunity to apply for an internship with the Better Make Room campaign.
Since September 2017, Karen and her fellow interns have been part of the Better Make Room task force. The task force mentors high school students across the nation pursuing their pathway to college and supports them with college applications, questions about FAFSA and more.
On May 2, 2018, Karen embarked upon a second opportunity to be under the same roof with Mrs. Obama. She and her Better Make Room task force were invited to hear Mrs. Obama address thousands of Class of 2018 students attending the College Signing Day celebration in Philadelphia, and cheer them on as they made their promise to higher education.
Even more thrilling was the opportunity to meet Mrs. Obama during the event, and be in the same room with celebrities including Bradley Cooper, Rebel Wilson, Zendaya, Robert De Niro, Camila Cabello, Questlove, Anthony Mackie and Janelle Monae.
“Meeting Mrs. Obama was an experience I never imagined could happen,” said Lopez. “Her words are always inspiring, and they reminded me to continue to set the bar high for myself and to encourage my peers to do the same. I’m grateful for my experience with Generation 1st Degree, the support of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute and the opportunity to intern with Better Make Room. All of these experiences have encouraged me to strive harder. If it weren’t for this support system, I know I wouldn’t have challenged myself to go to college out of state, which has provided me with the most valuable experiences. As a first-generation student, I’m speechless when I think about how far I’ve come from Pico Rivera.”
We asked Karen, Who initiated the hug when she met Mrs. Obama?: “When it was my turn to meet her, she opened up her arms, so I went in for a hug. She’s a really good hugger and gives a very heartwarming hug.”