The First Lady, Viacom and Get Schooled Move FAFSA-Forward

First Lady Selfie

First Lady Michelle Obama takes a selfie with Baltimore student Lawrence Lawson’s phone following a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) workshop at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., Feb. 5, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

What do you get when you bring the First Lady, a high school valedictorian and Viacom’s most creative minds together? A true Viacommunity effort!

Teamwork, wit and humor were in the air two weeks ago as employee volunteers gathered to brainstorm. The assignment: a public service announcement (PSA) with First Lady Michelle Obama encouraging students to complete the FASFA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), as part of the “FAFSA-Forward” campaign from the Get Schooled Foundation and its founding partner Viacom. The campaign encourages students to get the money they need for their college education.

At the meeting, sparks flew as ideas took on a life of their own, aided by the brain power of gluten-free pizza. The huddle ended with the marching orders to submit ideas by noon the next day. Submissions delivered to team Viacommunity, the umbrella for the company’s community efforts, surpassed all expectations in quality and variety. The team was left with the difficult task of narrowing down a selection to pass along to the First Lady’s office.

Once the winning idea was picked, all hands were on deck to fine-tune the script, as folks at Comedy Central, Velocity, VH1, NickMom, MTVOther and MTV News & Docs added their mark. The very next day, everyone who worked on the script, along with production crews and the Viacommunity team, were on their way to shoot the spot at a FAFSA workshop in Alexandria, VA. Even on the train ride, finishing touches were made to the PSA and last minute details for the workshop came together.

Comedy Central’s John Cassidy and Kevin Maher contributed to the FAFSA PSA script.

Comedy Central’s John Cassidy and Kevin Maher contributed to the FAFSA PSA script.

The event at TC Williams high school, featuring the First Lady and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, gave students and parents the chance to learn about the FAFSA and get help from counselors with filling it out. The First Lady spoke to students about youth empowerment and the importance of completing the FAFSA in finishing their education beyond high school. Viacom’s special event teams made sure the day was as well run as the most high-stress awards show.

Then came the moment; 15 minutes with the First Lady to shoot the spot. Within the first few minutes on set tension and fears subsided. As soon as she took her seat at a student desk, the First Lady eased the crew with her casual manner and candor, telling her student co-star not to worry because she’d be bound to mess up.

Baltimore’s New Era Academy valedictorian Lawrence Lawson had the honor of appearing in the spot with the First Lady. Everyone from the production crew to the First Lady herself was impressed with his acting chops.  The First Lady even told him, “You’re making me look bad!” when she had trouble with the tongue twisting abbreviation FAFSA. Like every momentous occasion, the spot ended with a selfie.  The First Lady even offered to take an actual selfie with Lawrence and his college counselor.

Everyone who stepped up to make the PSA was a star, collaborating in a special way to educate high schoolers about taking the first step in getting the money they need for college. Check out the finished spot here. And be sure to tell the high schoolers in your life to retweet @GetSchooled with the hashtag #FAFSA from February 12-17 to win one of ten $1,000 scholarships. Visit for more info, along with personal, real time assistance tools to help students fill out their FAFSA forms.

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