"We can't afford to exclude so many from continuing their education just because they come from certain income brackets or certain areas," the first lady, a longtime educator, said on Monday
Jill Biden
Dr. Jill Biden
| Credit: SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden on Monday made her first public appearance since undergoing a medical procedure last week — traveling to Dixon, Illinois, to tout the importance of community colleges.

Following a tour of Sauk Valley Community College with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other lawmakers and school administrators, the first lady and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona delivered remarks to a socially-distanced crowd of about 30 in the school's gymnasium.

"We can't afford to exclude so many from continuing their education just because they come from certain income brackets or certain areas," said Biden, a longtime educator at Northern Virginia Community College.

"Most people now call me first lady. But to one group of Northern Virginia Community College [students], I am first, foremost and forever their writing professor: Dr. B," she continued. "In my class, my students don't take anything for granted. Some of them are there for a head start on a four-year degree ... and others are there for a much-needed start."

President Joe Biden accompanies first lady Jill Biden to an appointment for a "common medical procedure"
From left, back: President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden head to an appointment for a "common medical procedure" for her at an outpatient center in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
| Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP/Shutterstock

Biden, 69, is the first first lady to maintain a job while carrying out her unpaid White House duties and returned to teaching this spring after taking the fall off to focus on the 2020 campaign.

She has been an outspoken advocate for the value of a community college education and said earlier this year her husband's administration was backing ways to make it free.

Upon announcing her intention to continue teaching after moving to the White House, she said last year: "I want people to value teachers and know their contributions and lift up their profession."

In Joe and Jill Biden's first interview as president and first lady, with PEOPLE, Dr. Biden said teaching was her "passion."

"That's my life," she said.

During her Monday remarks, Dr. Biden relayed a story from her own career which she explained occurred a few semesters ago.

"I was getting dressed for school ... it was like six o'clock in the morning, and I got a text that said, and I quote: 'I'm on my way to the hospital to have my baby. Research paper will be late.' To which I replied, 'Excuses, excuses,' " she said with a laugh.

The first lady went on to explain that the student had an "incredible" back story and had served as an interpreter for troops stationed in Afghanistan.

"She was starting a new life for herself, here in America," Dr. Biden said. "And in the midst of labor, of all things, she was worried about getting in her paper on time. I know that she's a special example. But her commitment isn't unique ... my students come from all walks of life ... and they don't complain. They only ask for one thing in return: the chance to work hard and build a good life for themselves and their families."

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The first lady's appearance comes after the White House said she had an outpatient procedure last Wednesday, where she was joined by the president.

A spokeswoman said in a statement afterward that Dr. Biden "tolerated the procedure well" and was "heading back to the White House to resume her normal schedule" but did not provide further details.