WASHINGTON – Born into a family that migrated from the Dominican Republic 30 years ago, Edward Lirianl was raised in a Bronx, New York, neighborhood where crime, poverty and poor education often discouraged dreams and aspirations of young people.

Despite the tough environment, Lirianl was determined to pursue his love of economics, and ultimately scored an acceptance letter to Georgetown University. To the 18-year-old freshman, that letter is the ticket to a new life and better future.

“I know my parents really gave up a lot by moving to the United States for me to go to school,” Lirianl said. “So when I was struggling with my work or wondering how I was going to get through this, I always thought about my parents who gave so much for me to be able to go to school here.”

Lirianl was one of 130 college-bound students from across the country who visited the White House Tuesday for first lady Michelle Obama’s annual “Beating the Odds Summit,” an initiative dedicated to education and strengthening underserved communities.

The up-and-coming students represent urban and rural areas, foster homes, homeless shelters, special needs kids and other underrepresented youth. All of them have overcome significant barriers to make it to college, the White House said.

Michelle Obama, who grew up in a family of modest means on the south side of Chicago, was joined by Secretary of Education John King. Musical artist Jidenna, a Stanford graduate, and YouTube personality Tyler Oakley also offered students down-to-earth advice at the East Room event.

“This is grown up time. It’s time to be fully responsible for everything you do,” said the first lady, who was cheered by her energetic audience. “We want to make sure that kids like you, who were like me, got all the support that you needed to change your dreams.”

During a panel discussion, Secretary King touched on a problem all students at the event were anxious about: college financing. He reassured that the government is doing its best to make sure college is affordable.

“College is the best investment that you can make and so it may seem daunting while you’re in college but the lifetime returns are tremendous,” King said. “But you just got to be aggressive about trying to figure out all the possible sources of funding while you’re in school.”

Lirianl said, “just being in the White House is a very cool experience. But hearing her [Obama] speak was really amazing. It’s kind of hard to believe that she has similar backgrounds like us, so what she said really meant a lot to me and the other people also felt that.”

Another student from Chicago, Jazzmine Brooks, 18, said she was completely blown away by the experience.

“I never thought I would be spending a weekend here at the White house. I mean who does that?” said Brooks, who will attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

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(Text written by Jenny Lee; Video produced by Xuanyan (Iris) Ouyang)