WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- The first lady of the United States delivered an emotional farewell speech in the White House Friday, at an event honoring the nation's school counselors and educators.
"May I say for the last time, welcome to the White House," Michelle Obama said in her opening remarks. "These are the fine women -- and a few good men -- who are on the stage and they represent schools from across this country."
Obama emceed the event, which named the 2017 National Counselor of the Year -- Terri Tchorzynski, from Battle Creek, Mich.
The event was attended by several award candidates, Secretary of Education John King, former education secretary Arnie Duncan, talk show host Andy Cohen and Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, and singers Kelly Rowland and Usher.
"All of these folks are here because they are using their star power to inspire our young people, and I am so grateful for all of you for stepping up in so many ways," the first lady said.
"I feel like I have pestered you over these years, asking time and time again, 'where you gonna be? I'm gonna be in New York. Can you come, can you come here, can you do this, can you take that, can you ask for that, can you come, can we rap, can we sing?'" Obama joked. "It really means the world to this initiative to have such powerful and respected and admired individuals speaking on behalf of this issue."
The event, now in its third year, celebrates the nation's school guidance counselors as part of the Reach Higher initiative.
Michelle Obama has made youth issues, including ending childhood obesity and improving children's emotional well-being, a central part of her work in the office of the first lady. The first lady, along with the president, has also tried to make education a touchstone of the administration.
"Altogether, we made in this administration the largest investment in higher education since the G.I. Bill [in 1944]," Obama said. "And today, the high school graduation rate is at a record high, and more young people than ever before are going to college.
"And we know that school counselors, like all the folks standing with me on this stage, have played a critical role in helping us get there."
The first lady leaves her husband's presidency an extremely popular figure in the Obama administration. She played a key role as a surrogate in the unsuccessful presidential campaign of fellow first lady Hillary Clinton, often drawing larger and more enthusiastic crowds than the former secretary of state.
"All of us need to be providing for our young people because that is what moves this country forward. ... "So that's my final message to young people as first lady," she said, emotional in her closing remarks. "I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong, so don't be afraid. ... Lead by example with hope, never fear.
"Being your first lady has been the greatest honor of my life, and I hope I have made you proud."