Mina Yakubu lead a senior walk Friday as part of the former First Lady's 'Better Make Room' campaign

WILMINGTON -- To an eighth grader, college can feel a thousand miles away. But Mina Yakubu wants Wilmington's middle schoolers to know that they can get there -- they just have to find the path.

On Friday, Yakubu lead more than 30 fellow members of New Hanover High School's Class of 2017 on a "senior walk" through Williston Middle School. Yakubu planned the event after being invited to the White House in January as part of former First Lady Michelle Obama's "Better Make Room" campaign, aimed at getting students to keep up their education after high school.

"The main message is to help students understand this could be them in four years, only if they work hard and dedicate themselves to something," she said before the walk. "High school goes so fast and you need to have a plan."

Yakubu, who emigrated to the United States from Ghana in the first grade, is one of 17 students from across the nation on Better Make Room's student advisory board. When those students visited Washington, D.C., in January, Obama gave them a challenge -- go back to your schools and figure out how to get more of your peers thinking about college. 

So this semester, Yakubu started designing the senior walk with New Hanover County Schools leaders. She chose Williston because she's an alumna, and it's right around the corner from New Hanover High. In the fall, she'll head to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain Scholar.

"What I really want them to get from this event is this is not just New Hanover High School graduates, this reflects students across the whole nation," she said. "I just think it's time to start thinking of college and start thinking of these post-graduation plans ... as something anyone can do."

After marching through Williston's halls Friday morning, lead by members of the New Hanover High marching band, the seniors took the stage in the auditorium.

One by one they shared their college destinations to applause from Williston's eighth-grade class: UNC campuses in Chapel Hill, Pembroke, Charlotte and Wilmington; Cape Fear Community College; Spelman College in Atlanta; United States Military Academy; Princeton University. The seniors talked candidly about their high school setbacks and living with "senioritis," all while telling students to keep pushing toward college.

"Don't let your friends throw you off; don't let the life you are caught in throw you off," Yakubu told them. "In about three or four years, you too will be here on this stage."

Reporter Cammie Bellamy can be reached at 910-343-2339 or Cammie.Bellamy@StarNewsOnline.com.