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Obama Goes to Kalamazoo
May 4, 2010 9:30 AM   Subscribe

Do you remember who your high school graduation commencement speaker was? Yeah, me neither. Fortunately, the class of 2010 at Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, MI won't have that problem: KCHS was just selected as the winner of the White House Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, and will host President Obama at this year's commencement ceremony.
posted by 40 Watt (61 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I went to KCHS. Class of 2001. Let me be probably the only person to say the school doesn't deserve this honor.
posted by ish__ at 9:37 AM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Damn, I don't think we even had a commencement speaker at my high school graduation. Just the salutatorian, class president, and valedictorian speeches along with random blah from various school officials.

(But at least everybody clapped for me... finally, an advantage to being alphabetically last.)
posted by kmz at 9:37 AM on May 4, 2010


My high school commencement speaker was Harry Anderson. I imagine that Obama might be more memorable, but I also imagine that he won't tell the stories about his days as a vagabond magician, buying roach clips, and smoking weed after he finished high school...
posted by togdon at 9:40 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


FWIW, ours (class of 1989) was the first female commander of Quantico Marine Corps Base.
posted by smoothvirus at 9:48 AM on May 4, 2010


Given the unemployment rate in Kalamazoo, and the economic woes in Michigan, perhaps it's best he's speaking to a graduating HS class rather than college.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 9:49 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


local news sources wwmt and kalamazoo gazette report - the ceremony will be held in wings stadium, a hockey rink
posted by pyramid termite at 9:51 AM on May 4, 2010


Our class valedictorian gave an awkward commencement address and ended up committing suicide half way through the first semester of college.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:51 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Awesomely enough, my high school graduation speaker was Fareed Zakaria. And my graduation was in the General Assembly of the UN, which may have been even cooler, since I don't remember a thing that Zakaria said.
posted by Polyhymnia at 9:57 AM on May 4, 2010


My inner Teabag-troll says: What, Karl Marx & Che Guevara were tied up with other speaking engagements?
posted by wcfields at 9:58 AM on May 4, 2010


pyramid termite: "local news sources wwmt and kalamazoo gazette report - the ceremony will be held in wings stadium, a hockey rink"

That's because the only other places to have a high school commencement in Kalamazoo are Western Michigan University's auditorium and the old Kalamazoo Central's auditorium. Yes, that's right - the old KC has an auditorium and the new one does not. The new one does have nifty metal detectors though.
posted by ish__ at 9:59 AM on May 4, 2010


Given the unemployment rate in Kalamazoo

believe it or not, it's the best in the state - that's pretty scary
posted by pyramid termite at 9:59 AM on May 4, 2010


Kalamazoo is unique in one important aspect in terms of their approach to education. A few years ago the Kalamazoo Promise was created, which provides nearly 100% funding of college for graduating HS students who meet some pretty basic requirements.

Good for Kalamazoo, good for Obama, and good for these students...any encouragement they can get is important.. Things are tough here right now..
posted by HuronBob at 10:00 AM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm torn, on the one hand I think a high school having a commencement speaker is sort of silly, on the other hand, I had to sit through my high school's valedictorian give a speech about how she overcame the challenge of getting into a prestigous university, so I can see the appeal of turning it over to a professional. At the time, of course, I also saw the appeal of a slow, lingering death.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:01 AM on May 4, 2010


Given the unemployment rate in Kalamazoo, and the economic woes in Michigan, perhaps it's best he's speaking to a graduating HS class rather than college.

He did that last week. We Michiganders are starting to think he likes us.
posted by Etrigan at 10:02 AM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Who is this Obama character I keep hearing so much about?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:04 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmm... Joe Beese must be on vacation.
posted by electroboy at 10:08 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My graduation speaker was Al Gore. He gave an interesting, but fairly boilerplate and utterly inoffensive speech. I still cringe at the memory of one of my parents refusing to applaud simply because Gore was Vice President to the dreaded Clinton.

The last bit of education I picked up from high school was learned that day, when I realized that the people who consider themselves above the partisan fray are often the ones who are most caught up in it.

Thanks, Mr. Gore!
posted by Riki tiki at 10:11 AM on May 4, 2010


In recognition of the extraordinary achievements and outstanding efforts by each of the six finalists, the Obama Administration will work to provide a Cabinet secretary or senior administration official to deliver the commencement address at each of the five schools not selected as the national winner.

In addition, your valedictorian's final GPA of 4.35 is a fucking big deal.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:11 AM on May 4, 2010


The real question is: will he be forced to sit on stage during the entire 2 hour long diploma presentation? If so, and the seniors decide to pull the classic cafeteria spoon prank, will Obama then be forced to spend most of his evening stacking cheap spoons on a card table and sweating over each one he lets loudly clatter to the floor? Could we imagine a more perfect metaphor for his presidency? This is a wonderful thing.
posted by Think_Long at 10:14 AM on May 4, 2010


any encouragement they can get is important

True that. KCentral also just won the Class A state basketball championships, something that hasn't happened for over 50 years. We threw 'em a ticker-tape parade downtown.

the old KC has an auditorium and the new one does not

Um, actually, ish__, a lot has changed in 9 years, believe it or not.
posted by 40 Watt at 10:16 AM on May 4, 2010


40 Watt: "Um, actually, ish__, a lot has changed in 9 years, believe it or not."

Indeed it has, I stand corrected. Still same old shitty administration and student body though :)
posted by ish__ at 10:22 AM on May 4, 2010


Do you remember who your high school graduation commencement speaker was?

Oh yeah.

It was our Vice Principal who read Mary Schmich's famous essay entitled "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young", which was popularized not even a year later by Baz Luhrmann who put the essay to music in a song called "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)".

I was almost disappointed I wasn't around the following year to give him stern reminders about the importance of crediting your sources and the dangers of casual plagiarism.
posted by ODiV at 10:23 AM on May 4, 2010


This will certainly be memorable for Kalamazoo. I had Congressman (soon to be Senator) Don Riegle, which I thought was pretty cool at the time. He had just switched parties from Republican to Democrat and the only thing I remember about the speech now is the laugh he got when there was some trouble with his mike and he blamed it on the Republicans.
posted by various at 10:24 AM on May 4, 2010


the classic cafeteria spoon prank

eh?
posted by inigo2 at 10:24 AM on May 4, 2010


Still same old shitty administration and student body though :)

If they have the same student body after nine years, they are certainly doing something wrong. ;)
posted by mayhap at 10:26 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


ish__: "40 Watt: "Um, actually, ish__, a lot has changed in 9 years, believe it or not."

Indeed it has, I stand corrected. Still same old shitty administration and student body though :)
"

And, funny enough, my mother comments to me that not 10 years before the millage for the new auditorium was approved, there was a similar millage for renovations to old Central's auditorium so that new Central could better use the space.
posted by ish__ at 10:26 AM on May 4, 2010


Burhanistan, I'm glad there were words in your sentence after "through." Without them, you would have had the worst commencement ever.
posted by stevis23 at 10:28 AM on May 4, 2010


Well hell, I don't think I'm even going to try to leave the house on that day.
posted by organic at 10:30 AM on May 4, 2010


Still same old shitty administration and student body though

you should have gone to springfield high school back in the 70s - if you thought k-central was bad ...
posted by pyramid termite at 10:32 AM on May 4, 2010


My high school graduation speaker (aside from the class-selected student who spoke) was Tori Murden.

Our school held graduation and prom on the same day/night, and a active tornado watch pushed graduation back a few hours. You would think Ms. Murden would consider that fact. A good speaker would take the developing events as a springboard for some spontaneous comments.

nstead, she spoke for ~2 hours about walking through blinding snow. It was one of the most painfully boring ("c'mon, c'mon, finish, finish!) events of my entire life.

We missed dinner, got to prom around 10:30-11, and left around midnight. Thanks, Tori.

So, "Do you remember who your high school graduation commencement speaker was?" Yes, I do. She sucked. (Tori, if you're reading this, I apologize, but it's true.)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:36 AM on May 4, 2010


Dear Kalamazoo,

Keep an eye on your bikes!

Love,
New York City
posted by functionequalsform at 10:38 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My very good friend and college roommate teaches science at Kalamazoo Central. He must be very excited about this development.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 10:39 AM on May 4, 2010


As a teacher, I find Race to the Top utterly unencouraging. I've worked in private education with a bonus system, which I found did more to encourage unethical behavior than it did to stimulate excellence among teachers. Similarly, having an axe over your head doesn't do a whole lot to help the situation, either.

My experience has been that very few people get into teaching for the money or because they're looking for an easy job with lots of (largely illusory) vacation time. It's way too tough a gig to get into (at least in CA & WA) for too little gain. People who go into teaching typically do it out of sincere motives, though unarguably many get burnt out.

The way to "fix" education would be to pour money of Wall Street Bailout proportions into hiring more teachers and building more schools. That would reduce class sizes, which -- far from making a teacher's job "easier" -- would increase the time teachers spend with individual students, and therefore give them a better education.

But then, protecting white collar criminals is way more important than enhancing education in this country, so we all know where the real money will go.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:39 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


You may be surprised to learn that only 17 (or 13, I don't remember which) Kalamazoo Promise students have actually graduated from the program so far. This is surprising to me, because of the large number (1000+) of students that are receiving money from it.
posted by rebent at 10:40 AM on May 4, 2010


That said, I'd be thrilled to have Obama come speak at my high school graduation. No reason for the kids not to be proud. I just wish he wasn't doing it to pimp out a half-assed "solution."
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:40 AM on May 4, 2010


Ours was nobody special, but the class a few years ahead of us got Gene Siskel. I was so jealous.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:51 AM on May 4, 2010


Rebent: didn't the first eligible students graduate high school in 2006? Makes sense that not many would have four-year degrees yet.
posted by yarrow at 10:52 AM on May 4, 2010


Still same old shitty administration and student body though

Huh? As a Kalamazooan I say good on K-Central and good on KPS for supporting the Promise and working to improve our students' matriculation rate. I've been at several meetings with our new Superintendent Rice and I think he's a phenomenal administrator. He's incredibly progressive and has worked hard to create new literacy programs in various Kzoo neighborhoods and schools. We have a new bi-lingual elementary school and he's also worked to foster new relationships with Parks and Rec and Public Safety to provide plenty of summer programs for students.

As for the students - I teach many of them at Western Michigan University, and every K Central grad I've worked with has shown just as much, if not more, promise and talent as the students from the 'burbs.

I'm sorry you have such a skewed opinion of our students and administration - from what I've seen Kalamazoo is a great place to raise a family and has one of the most progressive approaches to student involvement and literacy anywhere in the state of Michigan.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:12 AM on May 4, 2010


Ours was a classmate who started at our school in her senior year, took over 80% of her classes at a nearby college, and who nearly no one spoke to. Ever. Her speech was a hilarious satire of such speeches, referencing sporting events she had never been to, groups she had never been a part of, even individuals that didn't exist. It was awesome.
posted by odinsdream at 11:13 AM on May 4, 2010


Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Dr. Jay Robinson spoke at ours. God, that was awful. Might as well have been Superintendent Chalmers.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:44 AM on May 4, 2010


We didn't have a guest speaker. The superintendent gave a few words, then our valedictorian. Our Salutatorian wasn't allowed to speak. She was 7 months pregnant at the time.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2010


That said, I'd be thrilled to have Obama come speak at my high school graduation.

Having said that ...
posted by mrgrimm at 12:00 PM on May 4, 2010


For those who don't know how the contest worked, 1000s of schools were narrowed down to six. The public voted those finalists down to three (based on school-created videos they had just a few days to prepare). Obama hand-picked the winner from those three.

Having been a part of Kalamazoo's initial effort to get out the vote (I was the web guy behind the Vote Kalamazoo site), this is a pretty cool accomplishment for our city. A lot of people from a lot of walks of life came together to spread the word.

While there were a few snide comments ("An Obama commencement? What kind of prize is that?"), a lot of discussions sprung up about Seeing a President. Regardless of political affiliation, everyone had some kind of story: getting a glimpse of Gerald Ford at a small town appearance, seeing Clinton's motorcade, etc.

My only contribution: I wrote to Reagan when in 3rd grade. And I got a response!*

Seeing a President – no matter who it is – is a pretty cool deal. I'm going to do what I can to crash the party :-)

* OK, it was a form letter with a signature from RoboReagan. I didn't know any better, so I thought it was pretty damn cool at the time.
posted by Exploding Gutbuster at 12:08 PM on May 4, 2010


My only contribution: I wrote to Reagan when in 3rd grade. And I got a response!*

* OK, it was a form letter with a signature from RoboReagan. I didn't know any better, so I thought it was pretty damn cool at the time.


Jeez, I did too! I was having nightmares about nuclear war (damn you Day After!) and someone suggested I write the President. I did and got that fucking RoboReagan letter back. I can difinitively state that opening that envelope was the exact moment I became disallusioned with politics, and I was a little fucking kid!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:19 PM on May 4, 2010


My class of 1994 commencement speaker was David Frohnmayer; that was the year he was named president of the U of Oregon. His speech was heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell's thinking, and he told moving stories about his daughters, who were quite ill (two of them died later, unfortunately). I still remember it because it was, in fact, inspiring. I've always been glad to have had such a thoughtful and genuine speaker at commencement.
posted by fraula at 1:12 PM on May 4, 2010


The kids will remember Obama, the parents and family will remember how much of a pain in the ass security was.
posted by toekneebullard at 1:54 PM on May 4, 2010


I don't remember who my graduation speaker was, but when I graduated from law school, President Obama spoke at our commencement. That was pretty cool.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:52 PM on May 4, 2010


Pollomacho: I was having nightmares about nuclear war (damn you Day After!) and someone suggested I write the President. I did and got that fucking RoboReagan letter back. I can difinitively state that opening that envelope was the exact moment I became disallusioned with politics, and I was a little fucking kid!

Maybe you should have written to Andropov instead...
posted by hangashore at 3:06 PM on May 4, 2010


The year I graduated high school, our class president decided that our principal, who was retiring, should be asked to deliver the commencement address in addition to his usual remarks. We never forgave him (the class president) for the long, rambling mess that resulted. My brother in law, who went to the same high school? Yeah, he got Conan O'Brien.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:03 PM on May 4, 2010


We don't do 'commencement' in British high schools, but the person who handed out the A-level certificates for my year was Cherie Booth--whose husband was at the time Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. How long ago that seems.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:48 PM on May 4, 2010


Those inverted commas around 'commencement' are not intended to mark British disdain, incidentally--just trying to indicate the whole (and to us mysterious) phenomenon of 'commencement'.

Hope that's clear.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:51 PM on May 4, 2010


The numbers on Kalamazoo Promise graduates given above are off, I think. 17 is the number of students graduating from the local university (Western Michigan) as the first possible graduating class. The Promise allows students to go to any public institution in Michigan.

According to research done at The Upjohn Institute, as of Sept, 2009, about 1100 students were enrolled in colleges and being supported by the Promise. In 2009, 74% of Promise eligible students who graduated that year used the Promise for at least one semester.

Both the Upjohn Institute and Western Michigan's evaluation center are doing continuous evaluation studies of the impact of the Promise on students and on our community.

Kalamazoo really is a wonderful place in many ways. May I also mention The Gilmore is happening right now?
posted by willF at 8:37 PM on May 4, 2010


can i mention that we have really, really good donuts?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:48 PM on May 4, 2010


and great beer?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:49 PM on May 4, 2010


Mine was Ray Suarez, who was actually pretty interesting. Though no doubt, a sitting president would've been awesome.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:31 PM on May 4, 2010


Ahem. Central? Boo, I say. Boooo! I went to Norrix, and therefore am required to hate everything about Central. Of course, it must have been nice for Central students not to have to be bused clear across town to attend school (no idea about now, but as a student, most students living on the north side were bused all the way across town to Norrix, which is on the southern border of the town). Then again, Norrix at one point was a beautiful school, and we have a much better park across the street to skip classes in.

Seriously, though, I was home, in Kalamazoo, for a month last summer, marking the longest time I've spent in one go (or perhaps total) since roughly 1994. Honestly, I was shocked at how much better it's become. It's a beautiful city, and as mentioned above, it is a pretty damn good place to raise a family.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:53 AM on May 5, 2010


Maybe you should have written to Andropov instead...

One of my friends in 1984 actually got to go on one of those post-Samantha Smith early-glastnost goodwill ambassador youth trips to the USSR and was on the Today Show. That bastard!

And since I can't find a clip of the show on the web anywhere, please enjoy the Soviet version of the TV sign off video and the trailer from Moscow on the Hudson.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:01 AM on May 5, 2010


The New York Times reported this story today with the utterly bizarre headline "Michigan High School Snags Noted Hawaiian as Speaker." That headline appeared only in the print edition, which probably explains why me and two tweeters are the only ones who noticed. (The online version of the article is headlined "Michigan High School Snags Obama as Speaker.")
posted by Xalf at 11:35 AM on May 5, 2010


The New York Times reported this story today with the utterly bizarre headline "Michigan High School Snags Noted Hawaiian as Speaker."

It's especially bizarre considering Obama is Kenyan.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:18 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's a photo of the headline in case anyone is still reading.
posted by Xalf at 2:29 PM on May 5, 2010


Obama's Commencement Address at Hampton University: College Experimentation Is Great, Keep That Mind Open, and Now if You'll Excuse Me, I'm Going to Continue Presiding Over Our Militarized War on Personal Drug Consumption
posted by homunculus at 9:19 PM on May 9, 2010


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