During his a commencement address Monday at the Memphis-based Booker T. Washington High School, President Obama told the 150 graduating seniors that it is because of education he is where he is today.
“I’m standing here as president because of the education I received,” Obama said, and because his mother and grandparents pushed him to excel. “I’m glad they kept pushing. 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—not just for your own success, but for our country’s success."
The school, which has increased its graduation rate from 55 percent to 82 percent in the past four years, won the national Race to the Top Commencement Challenge. In addition, 70 percent of the students now seek post-secondary credentials.
Obama also acknowledged the hard-knocks environment many of the students have grown up in but reassured them that some of the tough times they’ve experienced will only make them stronger.
“Whatever rewards and joys you reap, you’ll appreciate them that much more because they will have come through your sweat and tears; the product of your efforts and talents,” Obama said. “You’ve shown more grit and determination in your childhoods than a lot of adults ever will.”
Before he delivered the speech, the president surprised the graduating class by popping into the room where they were holding before the event began. The students were both thrilled and shocked. Most of them cheered and some of them cried.
“I just wanted you all to know you inspire me. That’s why I’m here,” he told the group. “I could not be prouder of what you do. But I’ve still got some big, big expectations for you, so don’t think just because you graduate from high school that’s it. You’ve got a lot more work to do, because I expect all of you to be leaders in this community and communities all across the country. And this is just the beginning. This is not the end.”
(Photo: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)