As graduation approaches for high school students around the country, there is mass planning and excitement taking place. Many high school seniors are looking forward to bringing their families from all over the country together for this milestone celebration. However, many high school seniors of Topeka, Kansas are not excited, but are in fact dreading their high school graduation ceremony. First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to make an appearance at the graduation ceremony of five different high schools in Topeka; however, due to the strict guidelines imposed in lieu of this, her visit is largely unwelcome.
Seniors from five high schools, comprising the 501 urban school district (USD 501), will gather in the Kansas Expocentre of Topeka, Kansas to hear the commencement speech delivered by Obama. Students are only allowed to invite four guests each to the graduation ceremony due to limited seating and extra security measures. Obama was invited to attend the event by the school district to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education case which ruled against segregation based on race within schools.
While the reasoning behind inviting Obama to make an appearance is relevant, many Topekans deem her presence unwelcome due to the private nature of the event. Outraged family members of graduating Topeka students are upset that cousins, grandparents and close friends may not make the cut to see the graduation ceremony due to the limited amount of tickets per family. Upset families want the event to remain personal, rather than become a political statement.
Facebook posts and tweets are littered with Obama and First Lady hashtags urging the First Family and USD 501 to change plans and hold separate graduations for each school, without the appearance of Obama, just as it has in years prior. Plans set by families of graduating seniors are foiled and money spent on invitations, which now contain incorrect information, is not to be refunded. Some posts even bring light to the fact that students who worked so hard for this accomplishment will not receive deserved recognition. There is a petition that was created on Change.org titled “USD 501: Regular graduation and attendance back to normal,” which many Facebook protesters are urging others to sign.
USD 501 is comprised of 77 percent low income students and 61 percent black and Hispanic students. Obama plans to speak about her higher education initiative at the event, which will “ensure that by the year 2020, America once again has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” The school board president, Janel Johnson, feels that having Obama speak is “a great honor,” and believes that the message she will deliver is an important motivation for graduating seniors of the area.
Some students are siding with the school board’s decision to have Obama speak at graduation, stating that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and will encourage future generations of students in USD 501 to strive to be the best citizens they can be. Even with this support, the current resounding opinion enveloping social media is distaste for what this speech will entail for extended families wishing to attend and unwanted publicity for the area.
District 501 is very diverse in many respects, which is a large reason the school district felt Obama’s encouragement and political plans were well suited to the district. The graduation will take place May 17th at the Kansas Expocentre, which sits in a central spot of Topeka. The ceremony is scheduled to have security start at 11 am and Obama will present at 1 pm. The White House has confirmed Obama’s visit to the Expocentre, though has yet to make changes or comments, if any, due to the resounding unwelcome response of Obama’s presence at the event.