First lady Michelle Obama sat down with a group of Chicago students participating in a job skills program and told the teens — most from the South Side — that she's not that different from them.
"To you all students, for having the courage to step outside your comfort zones —that was probably initially pretty scary, " Obama Thursday told 60 youths who are involved in Urban Alliance. "I know that feeling. I was you guys. I say that all the time — living on the South Side, looking at these buildings, wondering what was like to work in those offices."
Obama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his wife Amy Rule stopped at Urban Alliance to visit with the high school seniors just before noon at Columbia College in the South Loop on Thursday. Rule is co-chair of the Chicago board of Urban Alliance, an organization that mentors disadvantaged teens and places them in paid internships.
Urban Alliance is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1996 in Washington, DC. Since then the organization has worked with more than 15,000 low-income students. The group plans to expand later this year.
In Chicago, the group provides a year-long program including paid internships, formal training and mentoring from influential local professionals.
These at-risk teens are paid minimum wage working in corporate America, but they're getting so much more out of their internships.
Steve O'Neill just graduated from Julian High School and now wants to go to college.
"The first thing that I learned was to dress myself professionally," O'Neill says. "The second thing that I learned was punctuality. Someone who is not on time is not dependable and someone who is not dependable is otherwise expendable because time and presentations waits for no one---preach!"
That add-on came from Michelle Obama. She praised the work of Urban Alliance.
Briana Miller told the first lady she shares her story.
"I come from a modest background," Miller says. "I was raised in subsidized housing on Chicago's South Side and my family always pushed education first."
To laughter, the first lady said she could relate to Miller and spoke of her own experience: "Growing up on the South Side and then one minute on 74th and Euclid, the next minute in a dorm room at Princeton University, which is probably the ivyest of Ivy League."
But she told Miller, and the other students, to stay true to themselves.
"Don't feel like you have to change anything fundamentally about yourself," Obama said.
After all, she hasn't.
"I embrace my background and I want all of you to do that now wherever you go. You do not turn your back on what got you here," Obama said.
The White House says Obama's visit is part of her focus on youth empowerment.
The first lady was in Chicago earlier this year to talk about youth violence and has visited a high school on the city's South Side hit particularly hard by violence in the last school year. Mrs. Obama has also visited the city to promote her "Let's Move" program for the nation's kids.
The first lady and daughters Sasha and Malia were spotted at the United Center for Beyonce's concert Wednesday night.
The Associated Press and Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.