JAKE NAUGHTON/Herald photo

Michelle Obama reached out to women and students of Madison Monday, encouraging them to register their friends and take them to the polls to vote for her husband, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, on Election Day.

Kicking off Wisconsin’s “Women’s Week of Action,” Obama told a crowd of 1,800 gathered outside Camp Randall they were living in “an exciting moment in history.”

“We have within our reach a chance to rebuild our community, to rebuild our country, to rebuild this world at some level, and it’s been an extraordinary journey to this moment,” Obama said, reminiscing of the past 19 months on the campaign trail.

“We’re going to need women and young people continuing the kind of hard work that has gotten us to this point,” Obama said. “The first thing we’re going to have to do is get people registered. That is the first step to change — it’s simple.”

Obama asked the women in the crowd to assemble their friends, neighbors and colleagues and to spread the word on issues most important to them.

“Women get it done — this race can be decided on our shoulders as women,” Obama said. “That’s how we build this movement, a lot of it coming from individual conversations, people talking to people, people sharing their reasons for supporting Barack.”

Obama also said the nation’s young people have been the “backbone” of the campaign, and they possess the ability to change “the whole outcome of this election.”

Obama said she and her husband were “blessed and grateful” to be able to earn both undergraduate and law degrees and understand the challenge of paying for higher education.

“We are grateful for having the opportunity to move from a working class family to corporate degrees with decent salaries, which we feel blessed,” Obama said. “But that education came at a cost,” adding she and her husband have only recently paid off their student loans.

“There’s only one candidate who is looking at how do we make college affordable for every single child in this nation, regardless of their ability to pay,” Obama said.

At one point, someone in the audience yelled out, “How do we bridge the racial divide?”

“You can bridge the divide more than anything I could every say,” Obama answered. “People listen to their friends and their neighbors — you can’t underestimate the power of your own truth and your own persuasion.”

University of Wisconsin Provost Pat Farrell spoke before Obama, saying UW is “delighted when campaigns and candidates come to campus.”

“Hopefully this visit is one of many we will see throughout this campaign to energize us all to think hard about what challenges we face and how we can improve and make this a better place,” Farrell said.

Katie Nix, Wisconsin chair for Students for McCain, said the Republican presidential ticket is also encouraging to women.

“I think that having Sarah Palin on the ticket at all is very inspiring to women,” Nix said. “She does what she believes in, sticks to her guns, and she does what’s right.”