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Obama praises, challenges K-Central graduates

June 7, 2010

KALAMAZOO--President Barack Obama spoke this evening before an enthusiastic, sometimes deafening capacity audience of more than 5,000 people on the campus of Western Michigan University for the 2010 graduation ceremony of Kalamazoo Central High School.

Photo of President Barak Obama congratulating Kalamazoo Central High School graduate."I think that America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo about what makes a successful school in this new century," said President Obama.

"You've got educators raising standards and inspiring students to meet them. You've got community members stepping up as tutors and mentors and coaches. And you've got parents taking an active interest in their kids' education--attending teacher conferences, turning off the TV and making sure the homework gets done," said Obama.

K-Central earned the honor of having the president speak by winning the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge sponsored by the White House and was selected from the more than 1,000 high schools entered nationwide.

"I am here tonight," said the president, "because after three rounds of competition, with more than 1,000 schools and more than 170,000 votes cast, I know--and America now knows--what you've done at Kalamazoo Central.

"Together as a community, you've embraced the motto of this school district: Every child, every opportunity, every time. Every time! Every time, because you believe, as I do, that every young person, every child--regardless of what they look like, where they come from, or how much money their parents have--every child who walks through your schoolhouse doors deserves a quality education," Obama said.

Kalamazoo Central was one of three finalists in the Commencement Challenge, and the president personally selected it as the winning school. The White House announced the selection May 4. Arranging to have the president speak at K-Central's graduation involved changing both the date and location of the ceremony.

President Obama delivered his remarks at WMU's University Arena in Read Fieldhouse on virtually the same spot as a December 1963 address by one of the president's personal heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The president said the new graduates would face many challenges and setbacks. "You won't get an A in every course [in college]." Referring to Kalamazoo Central's mascot, the president then told the graduating class, "You can succeed, because you are Giants."

Following his speech, President Obama remained to shake hands with each of the 292 new graduates as they received their diplomas.

Kalamazoo is the home of the Kalamazoo Promise, which provides tuition to any Michigan public university or community college for students who successfully complete a Kalamazoo Public School education. More than 300 Promise students are working toward degrees at WMU, 17 have already earned bachelor's degrees, and 11 of those 17 graduated from the University with honors.

Winning the first annual Commencement Challenge is one of many firsts in K-Central's 152-year history. A unanimous decision by the Michigan Supreme Court in 1874 upheld the right of the Kalamazoo school board to levy taxes to support a high school. The decision cleared the way for free high school education throughout Michigan and in other states. As a result, Kalamazoo Central is widely considered the nation's first public high school.

The Obama speech marked the second time this decade that a sitting president has visited the WMU campus. President George W. Bush came to campus in March 2001 to deliver an address sponsored by Southwest Michigan First and the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce. The first sitting president to visit the campus was William Howard Taft, who came to what was then Western Michigan Normal School in 1911.

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Media contact: Thom Myers, (269) 387-8400, thom.myers@wmich.edu

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Western Michigan University
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