Washington – Not long ago Anthony Mendez lived with his family in an homeless shelter; now he will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama for her husband’s State of the Union speech to the nation Tuesday night.

Mendez, a University of Hartford freshman, was invited by the First Lady because he overcame serious challenges to become the first high school graduate in his family – and to continue on to college. He’s exemplifies Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” initiative, a program that encourages young people to take charge of their future by continuing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university.

Growing up in the South Bronx with his mother and three siblings, Mendez’s best friend was murdered when he was in ninth grade. The next year his family was evicted from their home and moved into a homeless shelter. Living two hours away from school, for six months Anthony had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to continue his high school education.

Mendez met Michelle Obama in July and told the first lady he will never hide from his past.

He hopes to study political science and is attending the University of Hartford on a partial track and field scholarship.

The president is expected to promote higher education in his State of the Union speech, including a new initiative that would give students in good standing free tuition for two years at a community college.

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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