Hall-Dale Middle/High School counselor Tara Kierstead represented Maine at the School Counselor of the Year ceremony Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., which featured the last official public remarks by first lady Michelle Obama, according to a news release from Maine’s Reach Higher State Coalition.

It was Kierstead’s first trip to the nation’s capital.

She was nominated by the Maine School Counselor Association and was among a group of honorees from around the country chosen for the honor by the American School Counselor Association. The association’s criteria include creative school counseling innovations, effective school counseling programs, leadership skills and contributions to student enhancement.

After going through multiple security checkpoints, Kierstead found herself inside one of the most famous houses in the world and then standing on a stage behind the first lady for Obama’s 15-minute speech.

“Being at the White House with Michelle Obama was amazing, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Kierstead said in a news release from the coalition, part of Obama’s national Reach Higher initiative encouraging students to continue their education after graduating high school. “It’s great to have the first lady not only understand what we do, but to be in our corner.”


Kierstead said it was a busy weekend in Washington, but she left feeling renewed and invigorated.

During her remarks, Obama said it’s school counselors who help students navigate difficult life decisions.

“I am so grateful to all of you for your passion and your dedication and all of the hard work on behalf of our next generation,” Obama said. “I can think of no better way to end my time as first lady than celebrating with all of you.” Obama concluded her speech by thanking all the counselors standing behind her for everything they do for children and the country. She said school counselors are often a crucial factor when a student decides to attend college.

The counselors spoke with Obama privately before taking the stage, the news release stated.

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