Education

Michelle Obama’s High-Achieving SOTU Guest Just Flunked Out Of College

One of Michelle Obama’s guests at the 2015 State of the Union address was invited because he overcame major obstacles to attend college, but he actually flunked out of school after just two semesters.

Anthony Mendez was a freshman at the University of Hartford when he received an invitation from Obama to attend the State of the Union. Mendez was chosen for his inspiring personal story. Despite spending time in a homeless shelter and having a friend of his murdered while in high school, Mendez was able to graduate high school and go on to college. Mendez met with Michelle Obama in the summer of 2014 and shared his story with her, which prompted her to invite him to the president’s speech about six months later.

Unfortunately, by the time he received his invitation, Mendez’s feel-good narrative was falling apart, as he admits in a Vox article published this week.

“Before even checking [my grades], I knew that I had failed all my classes,” Mendez says about his experience after his first term at Hartford. “With a GPA that didn’t even reach 1.0, I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to return next semester.”

Just days after returning from the State of the Union, Mendez had a sit-down with the college president.

“At the meeting, the university president and various other school officials asked about attending the speech, and I told them all about the incredible opportunity,” Mendez says. “Then they showed me my grades. They told me they would give me one more chance, but that this semester, I would need to excel. They offered support and guidance — they wanted me to succeed.”

But that didn’t happen.

“I found it hard to get back into the groove of school,” he writes. “My second semester at Hartford let me grow and helped me better understand myself and the world around me. I made friends who I keep close to this day. But once again, I wasn’t able to handle the academic stress. When the summer rolled around, I had another meeting with the school. They told me that I could not come back in the fall. They suggested that I look into community college. Months after attending the State of the Union with the first lady as a shining success story, I was a college dropout.”

Even as Mendez was failing school, he remained an object of interest to the White House. That summer, he was invited to come back to D.C. to be a representative of the Obama administration’s Reach Higher initiative. Despite his drastically changed circumstances, Mendez agreed.

“The same kid who had sat next to the first lady as an example of how anybody could beat the odds and attend college was no longer even in college,” he says. “I felt like a fraud.”

Mendez says after he dropped out he spent some time lazing around, doing essentially nothing. Now, he is attending classes at LaGuardia Community College while also working in a coffee shop. He says he wrote his tell-all for Vox both to overcome his shame and to show that his life is a sum of different experiences rather than a simple anecdote.

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