Two Teens With Learning Issues Hear College Pep Talk From Michelle Obama

By Geri Coleman Tucker on Jul 24, 2015

College-bound teens Jake Young and Matt Pashby Jr. are likely to remember the date July 23, 2015, for a long time. That’s the day they met First Lady Michelle Obama.

Young and Pashby are among 130 future college students from across the country who were invited to the 2015 Beating the Odds Summit at the White House. Both have learning differences, and were at the summit representing Eye to Eye, an Understood founding partner.

Eye to Eye provides mentors for kids with learning and thinking differences, and both students have served as mentors.

The Beating the Odds Summit is part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative. This program stresses the importance of postsecondary education for all students, including groups who’ve been underrepresented in college.

The First Lady hopes to help the United States reach the goal President Obama has set—having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

At the summit, she shared her own experiences at college. She talked about her periods of self-doubt and her worry that she had overreached.

But she also gave students this advice: “Own that future … don’t listen to the doubters. I wouldn’t be where I am without education—and I say that time and time again.”

Michelle Obama wasn't the only member of the First Family at the summit. President Barack Obama made time to speak to the students, too.

At the summit, the students attended various workshops. They learned about tools and techniques to help ease the transition from high school to college.

They also heard from a high-powered keynote panel that included the First Lady, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, rapper Wale and Brown University senior Manuel Contreras. Popular E! News co-anchor Terrence Jenkins was the moderator.

Young and Pashby were excited to attend the summit and meet the First Lady—but they’re also excited be starting college soon. Young is headed to Colby College; Pashby will be going to Loyola University New Orleans. Given their struggles with school, they realize what an achievement going to college can be.

Young, 19, says he was never formally diagnosed with a disability because his parents didn’t have the resources for testing. But he struggled in grade school with reading and writing. Finally, in high school, he found the support he needed. He learned to use a computer and spellcheck—and his grades improved.

Pashby, 18, also found his early years in school frustrating. “It was really difficult remembering small things,” he says. “And getting all my schoolwork done took me twice as long as everyone else.”

Finally, as a high school sophomore, he was identified as having a processing disorder, memory issues and testing anxiety. Having the diagnosis helped Pashby start understanding how he learns best.

If there’s one thing that mentoring kids at Eye to Eye has taught Young and Pashby, it’s the importance of learning from the experiences of others, whether they’re mentors or mentees. Says Pashby: “I absolutely loved working as a mentor and helping kids work through the same problems that I had.”

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    About the author

    About the author

    Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for