Change doesn’t happen overnight.

That was the message from First Lady Michelle Obama, who brought the enthusiasm—and a good chunk of her passionate Democratic National Convention speech—to the campus of Durham’s N.C. Central University Wednesday afternoon.

“It is going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild the economy,” she said.

Wednesday’s stump speech, the first of two North Carolina stops Wednesday with a second planned later in Greenville, seemed geared to contrast her husband, President Barack Obama, and GOP rival Mitt Romney, particularly on the subject of financial assistance for college students.

The first lady’s introduction Wednesday was delivered by NCCU senior Korey Mercer, a political science student who said he used federal Pell Grant funding to lessen his college costs.

President Obama has doubled Pell Grant funding in his first four years, the first lady said, inciting loud cheers from the thousands of rally-goers, many of them NCCU students.

Obama supporters are seeking to ignite the base of young voters who helped the president to a slim 14,000-vote victory in North Carolina in 2008. 

Under fire for a still-middling economy and a host of 2008 campaign promises that have yet to materialize, Obama’s campaign has sought to turn the attention to what the president has accomplished in the last four years.

That includes legislation aimed at leveling the gender gap in workplace pay; ending the war in Iraq; killing Osama bin Laden; righting a foundering American auto industry; and, of course, healthcare reform. Each was mentioned in Wednesday’s speech by the first lady.

“Barack didn’t care that health reform was the easy thing to do, he cared that it was the right thing to do,” she said.

Wednesday’s rally is one of the first since Romney’s controversial remarks at a Florida fundraiser surfaced this week, in which the GOP nominee took a swipe at the president’s backers as government-dependent, tax-dodgers. 

The first lady did not comment on Romney’s words Wednesday, but characterized her husband as a man in touch with the needs of average Americans.

“When you’ve worked hard and done well, you do not slam that door of opportunity shut behind you, you hold it open for others,” she said. “… No one gets where we are on our own.”

She also hailed her husband as a man of great character.

“I’ve seen how important it is to have a president who doesn’t just tell us what we want to hear,” she said. “He tells us the truth.”

Obama backers used much of the afternoon to urge attendees to get active in the campaign. The Obama campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort in 2008 has been credited for his success.