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Education Theme for First Lady's San Antonio Trip

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    TK
    AP
    First lady Michelle Obama speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 . Michelle Obama is celebrating her 50th birthday Friday. The first lady was spending the day out of sight, with no scheduled public appearances after back-to-back events at the White House this week. A big birthday bash is on tap for Saturday night at the White House. President Barack Obama has been involved in planning it. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    First lady Michelle Obama is joining a growing annual celebration of San Antonio high school seniors who are committing themselves to higher education.

    She will be the star attraction Friday as some 2,100 students from 38 high schools around the area participate in "College Signing Day," part of Mayor Julian Castro's long-term initiative to improve the area's high school graduation rates and increase the number of residents with college degrees.

    She is expected to talk about the importance of pursuing and completing some form of higher education.

    "(We're) better educated, with more folks going to college," said Castro, whose national prominence has grown since his keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention where President Barack Obama was nominated for a second term. "That's grabbing national attention, and it's consistent with the commitment the first lady has with championing educational success in our nation."

    The pep rally-like event caps Destination Week, a Castro-inspired weeklong series of happenings focused on education. It's also under the umbrella of SA2020, a citywide, decade-long initiative that's evolved into a nonprofit partnership with goals that include improvements to San Antonio's education, environment, arts and culture, transportation and family life.

    Castro, 39 and in his third two-year term, first proposed the signing day four years ago. It's intended to be similar to ceremonies for high school athletes choosing colleges and has grown from an "incredibly small" turnout of a few hundred seniors to doubling in size each year, SA2020 spokeswoman Molly Cox said.

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan earlier this year wrote about the city's college signing day in his Department of Education blog, calling it "an event that costs practically nothing, benefits the future of many, and brings joy to all."

    He also said the celebration shows younger students that academic excellence is just as worthy of cheers and shouts as athletic achievement.

    "Schools everywhere would do well to take note, and consider doing likewise," Duncan said.

    An SA2020 goal for San Antonio is to show by the start of the next decade "the greatest turnaround in educational achievement that any city has seen in a decade," according to Castro.