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First Lady Obama Inspires Chicago Students as City Lays Off 2,000 School Staffers

The first family had an eventful time in Chicago this week. First lady Michelle Obama took her daughters to see Beyonce at the United Center on the night before President Obama gave an inspiring speech to high school seniors in a program started by Amy Rule, the wife of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“I was you guys,” Obama told about 70 students participating in Urban Alliance Chicago, a career education program for underserved high school seniors, as she was joined by Mayor Emanuel and Rule.

“Living on the South Side, wondering what it was like to work in these buildings” in downtown Chicago.

 She said when she arrived at Princeton — which she called “the Iviest of the Ivies” — she discovered a “whole world of privilege and opportunity” that she hadn’t known existed. “I met, you know, the granddaughter of the person who the dorm was named after. I was just like, really?”

She said she was able to thrive by building a support network that included her brother, Craig Robinson who two years ahead of her. She encouraged the teens to do the same. “Replicate what you’ve done here” by seeking out the help of others.

Obama told a young woman headed to Trinity College in Connecticut, “know that you can’t do it by yourself and you don’t have to.”

She added, “Don’t feel like you have to change anything fundamentally about yourself.”

“You want to go in owning your experiences and your background,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons why as first lady I talk about my background, because I’m proud of it — you know, growing up on the South Side, not having a lot of resources, struggling through some of the best schools. You know, being one of the few black women in a room, at a boardroom, at a table, that has prepared me for this.”

“Do not turn your back on what got you here,” she said.

Her remarks came as the city was preparing to lay off more than 2,100 Chicago Public Schools employees Friday morning, bringing the total number of pink slips to 3,000 in two months.

CPS officials said Thursday they will notify 1,036 teachers and 1,077 non-teachers of the layoffs.

“As a former principal and teacher, I share the frustration felt by many of our principals, teachers, and parents about the difficult decisions our schools are being forced to make because of the historic $1 billion deficit facing our district,” schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett said. “Driven by the lack of reform in Springfield, the pension crisis has arrived at our schools.”

Chicago Teachers President Karen Lewis called the cuts “unnecessary and shameful for a system that prides itself on providing a high-quality education for our students” and said they will have a direct impact on the district’s quality of education.

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