"I want our young people to know that they matter, that they belong," Obama said, her voice breaking several times near the end of her remarks. "So don't be afraid. You hear me, young people? Don't be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. Empower yourself with a good education. Then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of you boundless promise. Lead by example with hope; never fear."
The event aimed at honoring the 2017 School Counselor of the Year comes exactly two weeks before President-elect Donald Trump assumes office.
The ceremony, which Obama initiated in 2015, highlights high school counselors who have demonstrated leadership skills. It's part of her "Reach Higher" program to promote higher education.
In her time at the White House, Obama has championed education, fitness, and military families, often using the East Room or the South Lawn to speak out on her chosen topics.
She's also hosted musical and theater performances at the White House, inviting students from Washington schools to partake in cultural events they may not have otherwise experienced.
During last year's political campaign, she also spoke out forcefully against Trump, arguing in passionate remarks that his comments about women had shaken her.
As she leaves the White House, the first lady has described what she'll miss, including the hyper-attentive personal staff and the sense of history.
"You know, there are little ... moments," she told Vogue in November. "Even today, I was looking out at this view here. Looking out on the South Lawn and the Washington Monument and it had just rained and the grass was really green and everything popped a little bit more. It's so beautiful. And for that moment I thought, I'm going to miss waking up to this, having access to this anytime I want."
But, she told the magazine, "it's time."
Friday's event won't be the final time the public will be able to hear from the first lady, however. She'll make her final late night show appearance next Wednesday on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."