Kingsley-Reigne Pissang (left) and DeJa Cooper

DeJa Cooper and Kingsley-Reigne Pissang are the embodiment of The Dream for attending college. The two incoming University of Wisconsin-Madison PEOPLE College Scholar freshmen were selected to go to the White House this year for the Beating the Odds Summit.

On Tuesday, July 19, they were two of more than 130 college-bound High School graduates from across the U.S. who joined First Lady Michelle Obama for the annual Reach Higher “Beating the Odds” Summit. The event, co-sponsored by the “I Have A Dream” Foundation (IHDF) and other foundations, brought together a diverse group of students from communities across the nation who all have one thing in common: they have overcome daunting odds on the path to college. The students come from varying backgrounds—many are first-generation college students, and have overcome obstacles ranging from poverty, homelessness, immigration status, and learning disability.

The participating students were selected through various college access organizations who are a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” initiative.

Aside from celebrating the accomplishments of these more than 130 students, the summit focused on college readiness with a panel discussion hosted by YouTube personality Tyler Oakley. The panel—including the First Lady, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr, a current college student, and musical artist Jidenna — shared their advice on finding academic support in college, forming strong networks at school, and how to attain a sense of “career fluency” to find opportunities in the future. Students had the opportunity to network with other participants, who share a wide array of backgrounds and life experiences.

Donna Lawrence, President & CEO of the National “I Have A Dream” Foundation, says, “For the millions of students living in poverty in the United States, ‘Beating the Odds’ describes the hard work they do every day to go to — and stay in — school, when the numbers are stacked against them. Our Dreamers are not just beating the odds by going to college: they’re thriving, and they are returning to their communities to share their opportunities with others.”

Events like this summit reinforce the mission of the “I Have A Dream” Foundation, which works to transform low-income communities by providing children with the social, academic, and financial support they need to thrive in school and life. For the 25 Million children in U.S. public schools living in poverty, the odds do not favor college graduation: only 9 percent will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree, compared to 77 percent of their peers from high-income families.

Through a long-term, comprehensive program of support from elementary school all the way through college, IHDF programs nearly triple the rate of college graduation. The Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) helps students from across Wisconsin explore and develop their interest in higher education, as well as prepare to enter, thrive while attending, and graduate from college.