Speaking to the class of 2021, the former first lady said that students are "moving forward in a world that's been turned upside down"
Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama
| Credit: Michelle Obama/Twitter

Michelle Obama helped high school seniors who had their school years disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic celebrate their college choices with a virtual, star-studded special on Saturday.

The former first lady, 57, gave a nod to one of Georgia's noted historically black colleges by wearing a Clark Atlanta University T-shirt under a denim jacket.

"Happy #CollegeSigningDay!" she wrote in a tweet posted Saturday. "I'm so excited to celebrate all of you who are taking this next step on your journeys and pursuing higher education. Whether you're going to a community college, trade school, university or joining the military, I could not be more proud of you!"

Also participating in the event were poet Amanda Gorman, Stephen Curry and his wife Ayesha Curry, The Weeknd, Conan O'Brien and others.

Calling it "one of my favorite events of the year," Obama welcomed viewers to signing day by saying, "This is the one day when we set aside everything else to celebrate what matters most: you."

"We've got even more reason to celebrate this year, after everything you all have gone through. And I know it hasn't always been easy to be away from your friends, or juggle back and forth between in-person, hybrid and virtual learning," Obama said. "Or logging in to class after class from your kitchen table or maybe even the parking lot, with better Wi-Fi than you have at home."

She continued: "And all of that is on top of everything else you've been dealing with this year: the issues of discrimination and hate and inequity, the tragedies that make us question how the world truly sees us and whether or not we can ever truly be more than our skin color."

Acknowledging that the events of the past year have been "a lot," the former first lady said that the class of 2021 has "resilience and grit" and has "embraced empathy and compassion and gained this unique experience of learning how to be nimble and flexible and resourceful."

"And now you're graduating and moving forward in a world that's been turned upside down," Obama added. "That's an experience no other generation can compete with."

While she noted that the ongoing pandemic has flattened parts of the job market, she promised those watching that all of their hard work would pay off.

"Whether you're going to a four-year school, enlisting in the military, earning a certificate, or enrolling in a community college, you are betting on yourself," she said. "And knowing all of you and everything you've gone through to get this far, that's a bet I'll make any day of the week."

She Obama ended her message by encouraging graduates to share photos and TikToks on social media by tagging @BetterMakeRoom and using the hashtags #bettermakeroom and #collegesigningday.

"Hope you have a great college signing day, everybody," she said." I love you all so much."

Better Make Room is a campaign within the Reach Higher Initiative, a program created by Obama during her time as first lady, which encourages students to complete their education beyond high school — be it through at a professional training program or enrollment at community college or four-year college or university.

Her college-age daughters, Sasha and Malia, took remote classes during the pandemic.

Malia, now a Harvard University senior, and Sasha, a University of Michigan sophomore, were sent home when COVID-19 shut down college campuses last year.

"Our girls were supposed to have emptied out of my nest," Obama explained to PEOPLE earlier this year. "I was sort of celebrating that they were out building their lives and allowing me the emotional space to let them go. Well, they're back!"

The increased time together was better than she or husband Barack Obama expected, though.

"This time has allowed us to get some stolen moments back with our girls," Mrs. Obama said. "Those recaptured moments have meant the world to us and I think they've made our relationships with our children even stronger."