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President Obama Gives High School Commencement Address
posted by: Alix | May 17, 2011, 03:48 PM   

President Obama stopped in Memphis, Tennessee yesterday to deliver Booker T. Washington High School's key note graduation address as part of the Department of Education's Commencement Challenge for 2011. Washington High secured the historic address from the President by illustrating how it overcame a history of disciplinary problems and high dropout rates by implementing reforms and turning the school into a sanctuary for troubled kids in inner city Memphis.

"Every commencement is a day of celebration," said the President in his address. "But this one is especially hopeful." President Obama shared the success story of Washington High School with students, parents, and the notable Tennessee legislators and leaders in attendance, highlighting the significant turnaround the school has seen in the last few years.

Since 2007, graduation rates went from 55% to 82% in 2010. Innovative reforms included separate freshmen academies for boys and girls and a greater choice not only of advanced placement classes, but vocational studies as well. Opportunities for both rigorous academic courses and real world training proved instrumental in turning around the once struggling school.

As part of the competition, the school submitted a video featuring footage of a boy desperately running toward the camera as a bulldozer tore down buildings in his neighborhood – a symbol of the hopelessness, poverty and adversity affecting students throughout the community. On Monday, that same teenager, graduating senior Christopher Dean, had the distinction of introducing the President to his classmates.

"You've shown more grit and determination in your childhoods than a lot of adults ever will," President Obama said in his inspiring address. He made an effort to personalize the speech, reminding the graduates, all African American, that he was two years old when his own father left home, leaving him to be raised by his mother amid constant economic struggles. Obama said his mother and his grandparents pressed him to excel in school.

"I'm lucky they kept pushing," he elaborated. "I'm lucky my teachers kept pushing. Because education made all the difference in my life. And it's going to make an even greater difference in your lives."

Dating back to 1873, the Booker T. Washington High was the city's first to educate blacks, earning a distinguished history in inner city Memphis. Among its notable graduates are former NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks, evangelist and songwriter Lucie Campbell, and Willie Herenton, the first elected black mayor of Memphis.

Click here to watch the President's entire speech.

Does the success of Booker T. Washington High inspire you?
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