"My parents didn't have the money to cover college tuition for me and my brother. Neither of my parents went to college or had any idea how to support us," she said.
But her advice to families was this: your kids don't need you to have a high paying job in order for them to success, but they do need love and support
"You don't have to have lived the kind of life you want your kids to live to help them excel," Obama said.
Obama has made youth engagement one of her signature issues in her first year and a half at the White House. She has opened up the White House to local students and held mentoring events across the city with celebrities and notable achievers.
Last spring, Obama had a rather candid conversation with a group of students at this same high school, telling them that when she was growing up, people told her, "You talk funny; you talk like a white girl."
Speaking to the students at Anacostia about how she achieved success in school and in her career, Obama said there was no magic to her story -- getting good grades was something that was important to her.
"I wanted an A, you know, I wanted to be smart, I wanted to be the person who had the right answer. And I didn't care whether it was cool, because I remember there were kids around my neighborhood who would say, "Ooh, you talk funny, you talk like a white girl," the first lady said last May. "I heard that growing up my whole life. I was like, I don't even know what that means, but you know what, I'm still getting my A."
Today she explained why reaching out to the nation's youth is a priority for her and President Obama.
"Listen, graduates, the reason that he and I invest so much of our time and energy in young people like you is because we see ourselves in each and every one of you," she said. "We are living proof for you that with the right support, it doesn't matter what circumstances you were born into, or how much money you have, or what color your skin is, if you're committed -- if you are committed to doing what it takes, anything is possible. It's up to you."
Obama also had a special message for those graduates who are not going on to college in the fall, a message that drew appreciative applause from the audience.
"You don't have to be on a college campus to educate yourself or to create new opportunities to grow, or to push yourself to think differently about the world," she said. "There are opportunities all over D.C. for you to enrich your lives and your minds."
For all the graduates and their families, Obama emphasized that part of growing up and being an adult is learning that life is a series of tradeoffs.
"If you want a career that pays a good salary, then you have to work hard. You've got to be on time; you've got to finish what you start; you have to always keep your word. If you want a life free from drama, then you can't hang out with people who thrive on drama," she said.