08 June 2010

Obama Delivers Commencement at Kalamazoo Central High

The Detroit Free Press

President Barack Obama told graduates of Kalamazoo Central High School on Monday to work hard in pursuing their passions, to not make excuses for their failures and to serve their communities.

Without that commitment to serve, he said, there likely wouldn't be a Kalamazoo Promise, the groundbreaking scholarship program that is providing free tuition to graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools thanks to anonymous donors who are funding the program.

"I am asking you to pay them back by seeking to have the same kind of impact with your own lives; by pursuing excellence in everything you do; and by serving this country that we all love," Obama said.

Obama delivered the commencement address after the school won a national contest to have him as their speaker.

Valedictorian Cindy Lee echoed the president's comments, telling her peers Monday was "our night to say to the world, 'We have the courage to succeed and the dedication and perseverance to make our dreams come true."

Obama spoke at Kalamazoo just weeks after giving the commencement address at the University of Michigan.
Obama applauds Kalamazoo: 'There is nothing you can't accomplish'

Saying they are an important ingredient in the success of Kalamazoo Central High School, President Barack Obama told graduates Monday night that although they've earned the recognition the school has received, the work doesn't stop now.

"Responsibility for your success rests squarely on your shoulders," Obama said, according to his prepared remarks. "What are each of you going to do to meet that responsibility?"

Obama's visit to deliver the high school's commencement address was the culmination of months of work by students and staff who participated in the first Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, a contest that garnered more than 1,000 entries from schools across the country.

As he walked onto the stage at the Western Michigan University Arena, Obama -- accompanied by Kalamazoo Superintendent Michael Rice -- was met with a deafening cheer from the crowd.

In choosing the school as the contest winner, Obama said America had a lot to learn from Kalamazoo Central and about what makes it a successful school in this new century: Educators raising standards and inspiring their students to meet them; community members stepping up as tutors and mentors and coaches, and parents taking an active interest in their kids' education -- attending teacher conferences, turning off the TV and making sure homework gets done.

An estimated 5,000 guests packed the arena after standing in long lines to get through security.

The graduation wasn't without its comical moments. One boy sitting on the stage was visibly falling asleep as Obama spoke, a scene that was captured on video and posted to YouTube.

Most in the audience, however, seemed engaged by Obama's speech.

But it was his actions before the ceremony even started that thrilled students most. Obama surprised graduates as they waited in a holding room, eliciting a huge roar from the teens when he walked in the room. Graduates were cheering and crying, said Kyle Beard, 18.

"I'm surprised the windows were still intact," he joked.

"I wanted to come by in a less-formal atmosphere to just let you know how proud I am ... for everything you've done," Obama told them. The grads, gathered on risers three-deep in a horseshoe formation, held out their cell phones, took pictures and shouted as Obama went on.

He praised the grads for beating expectations, overcoming odds and urged them to remain ambitious. "There is nothing you can't accomplish," he said, adding: "I might just be warming up a seat for you."

It could go to Simon Boehme, the salutatorian who told Obama he just might be president one day himself.

When Obama took the stage shortly afterward, he told Simon: "I'm glad that according to the Constitution you can't be president until you're 35."

Obama -- whose visit also included fund-raisers before the speech for the Democratic National Committee and Michigan U.S. Reps. Mark Schauer and Gary Peters -- drew on his personal experiences in explaining to graduates that true excellence comes through only perseverance. It was a lesson he didn't understand when he was their age, Obama said.

"I had a tendency, as my mother put it, to act a bit casual about my future," he told the crowd, adding that he once thought hard work and responsibility were old-fashioned conventions.

Elizabeth Morin of Grand Blanc came to the graduation to cheer on her niece, Mercedes Page. Morin said she appreciated the part of Obama's speech that decried the culture students are growing up in that values instant fame and celebrity.

"Success doesn't just take a day. It takes time. It takes years of study. It's not going to be handed to you," Morin said.

Obama told the graduates there will be times when they screw up, but he said that, in those times, they shouldn't cast blame. Had the Kalamazoo community done that, Obama said, "you could have easily spent years pointing fingers -- blaming parents, blaming teachers, blaming the principal or the superintendent or the government."

But that didn't happen in Kalamazoo, a city still basking in the glow of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship program that in four years has doled out more than $17 million in free tuition to graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools.

"You came together. You were honest with yourselves about where you were falling short. And you resolved to do better -- to push your kids harder, to open their minds wider, to expose them to all kinds of ideas and people and experiences."

He told graduates they have benefited from the struggles of previous generations. But he said it's now their turn to "build the industries, make the discoveries, inspire the next generation and heal the divides that continue to afflict our world."

No comments: