Michelle Obama represented the University of Maryland in Baltimore County on a national stage Saturday by sporting an UMBC t-shirt in a video promoting the College’s Signing Day.

The former first lady’s unexpected shoutout thrilled UMBC students and alumni and shone a light on the university’s accomplishments.

“To celebrate our eighth annual #CollegeSigningDay, I’m wearing a college shirt from UMBC, an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander institution in Baltimore County, MD,” Obama said in a statement accompanying the video. She appears alongside celebrities, such as Usher, Chloe and Halle Bailey, and Conan O’Brien, celebrating students for their upcoming college or military careers.

College Signing Day is an event typically associated with high school athletes selecting which colleges or universities they plan to attend and further their athletic careers. Obama launched an initiative in 2015 to encourage all students to continue their education beyond high school.

In a six-minute video, Obama congratulates high school graduates on completing their education during a year marked by the coronavirus pandemic. She assures students who have made the decision to attend community colleges or universities, enlist in the military, or enroll in training programs that their investments in the future will pay off.

The evening sun

Daily

Get your evening news delivered to your email inbox. Get all the best news and sports from baltimoresun.com.

“Your education has the power to transform your future and that of your family,” Obama said.

Alicia Wilson, an UMBC alumnus, had quietly recommended for years to her personal contacts that Obama wear an UMBC shirt for the annual celebration. This year, it gets stuck.

“It’s actually appropriate because of [UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski III’s] retirement and just the significant progress that UMBC has made over the past year, but really decades and decades of work, being a place where young people from all kinds of backgrounds can achieve an education of excellence and be set you on a path to truly having productive lives,” said Wilson, vice president of economic development at Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System.

Wilson is also president of the CollegeBound Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides support and guidance to students who wish to attend college. She brought 350 Baltimore students to Washington’s Capital One Arena in 2018 to see Obama on his book tour.

Hrabowski, longtime president of UMBC, is retiring in June. He is credited with building UMBC into a premier research institution that, among other accolades, has the largest number of black undergraduate students pursuing medical and doctoral degrees in the nation. The university is known as a national model in the educational community for its Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, a comprehensive scholarship for students from diverse backgrounds to focus on advancing minorities in STEM fields.

Wilson said Obama’s decision to represent UMBC demonstrates the university is a leader in supporting women and students of color who thrive in academic settings with the right resources.

“[Obama] could have worn any other school. The fact that she has chosen at this time to raise a school that truly aims to bring up the best in our communities, regardless of their background, truly speaks to the hope of what a college education means to people of very diverse backgrounds,” says Wilson. “But also, it elevates an institution that does it well. It’s just an honor to have him wear the shirt. And especially at this time when Dr. Hrabowski celebrates his retirement and his contribution to the world.