Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Night in Kalamazoo

On Monday night, I was blown away and honored even to have the opportunity to watch a group of kids graduate from Kalamazoo Central High School.  These kids are now a part of history and I'm pretty sure they knew this as they walked into the Western Michigan Arena that night.  Attending the first public high school in Michigan to open its doors 150 years ago...not enough.  Okay.  Being able to go to college for free just because you graduated from Kalamazoo public schools due to the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship...still not enough.  Interesting.  Being able to win the Race to the Top Contest that beat out thousands of schools around the nation... Still not enough?  Let's try this: Having the President of the United States of America deliver the commencement speech for your class and congratulating you when walk across that stage.

Can I say amazing?  Inspiring?  A part of history?  This would all only make sense to say.

After spending hours making sure that things ran smoothly on the governor's end of the program, I was given the opportunity to attend.  That day taught me never to depend solely on Google maps, because for the second time in the last month, I have gotten lost using their directions!  Please know, for me to say this means a lot since I am all about Google!  I mean, my phone (which is pretty much amazing) is through Google, I'm using Google docs to finish writing my book, I am a freaking walking billboard and yes, Blogger is through Google...could I be anymore dedicated to this company?!  I mean, I could be, but that's beside the point.  

I'm straying away from the real reason I started this entry in the first place.

When I stepped onto that bus that took me from where I parked my car to the Arena, I could already feel that sense of excitement around me.  Everyone on that bus could barely sit still for the 5 minute bus ride and honestly, I couldn't blame them.  Unlike the other passengers though, I was antsy for a completely different reason.  This had been the first "federal" event that I had ever managed for the governor and if anything got screwed up, it was on me!  The pressure!  Anyway, when I stepped off that bus to find one of the people from the office, (thank goodness for cellphones, because they made the search so much easier!) and was relieved to find that part of what I was worried about was under control.  Although, I don't understand this situation: when someone tells you to be somewhere BY 6:00 because security will be a mess, shouldn't you be there by 5:55?!  Just my thought on the whole thing!

Moving on!  Once I got through security, which really was slightly crazy, I walked around to make sure everything was still under control before going to find my seat.  It really did suck that all of my co workers were sitting up front, 3 rows from the stage, but I really do think that my seat in the 14th row is where I needed to be.  You see, the people that I spent most of my Saturday talking to on the phone or texting were sitting up there.  So for me to match faces to names and voices before commencement was great.  My thought on the whole thing was at least I was there!  

When the event started and people finally stopped cheering for the president, the superintendent welcomed everyone before stepping aside for the principal of Kalamazoo Central High School.  Having already gone through whole school thing, I can tell what makes a great teacher of school official.  The great ones are not in the business to make money, they really do care about each and every student that walks into their class and will do everything in their power to make sure the students succeed.  Not all teachers are like that, but I think that could be true for those two administrators that night.  When the principal spoke that night, the pride in his voice was so clear.  

Before that night, I had not seen the video that the school had submitted for the Race To The Top contest and even now, I think I made the right choice.  Several times during this video, I had to remind myself that these were high school kids.  The video told the history of the school and about the amazing students who attended Kalamazoo Central.  For some reason, I hadn't realized who culturally diverse this school was.  Over 51% of the school was African American and the next highest was Hispanic.  Wow!  They also pointed out that because of the Kalamazoo Promise, many of these students would be the first in their family to go on to college.

If that doesn't get you a little choked up, I don't know what will.

When the principal introduced the president, the crowd went crazy.  I mean, yes, people were there to support this amazing group of kids, but come on!  It's the president!  I loved that he stopped his speech to respond to a "We love you" from the crowd and commented on the fact the salutatorian couldn't run for office until he was 35.  Every part of his speech, to me, was amazing.  He thanked the anonymous donors for their contribution to the Kalamazoo Promise and told the kids that since they will never be able to pay them back, to pay it forward; continue to serve.  He also told that them that no matter what they did, not to make excuses.  Toward the end of his speech, he recited a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that has been stuck in my head ever since.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Kalamazoo may not be the richest city in the state, but the people there are doing what they can by educating their youth and instilling values at an early age, by using their desire to help the community around them in the Kalamazoo area.  

In his speech, he quoted a student of the school who said that their school was never recognized for what they do.  In response to this, he said:
Well, Kelsey, Class of 2010, members of the Kalamazoo community, I’m here tonight because after three rounds of competition, with more than a thousand schools, and more than 170,000 votes cast, I know -- and America knows -- what you’ve done at Kalamazoo Central.  You are amazing!  We know.  We know.  Our amazing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan knows.  Folks in Washington know, folks across the country know, and hopefully after tonight, everybody knows.
 Yes they do!

He also said this:
And I’m told that soon after the Promise was established, a first grader approached the superintendent at the time and declared to her:  “I’m going to college.”  First grader.  “I’m going to college.  I don’t know what it is, but I’m going.”
 Could that be anymore amazing?!  

Instead of continuing to quote his speech, I'll just say that it was amazing!  Read it for yourself if you don't believe me!

Someone asked me what the best part of that night was and honestly, I couldn't give them a straight answer.  It was the excitement, the pride, the idea that this amazing group of kids came together to bring the President of the United States to speak at their commencement or just the mere fact that I had the honor of attending this exciting event.  I have yet to talk to someone who could pinpoint the "best thing" about this night and maybe that's a good thing!  I don't think that could be done. 

I will say that I am soooooo sick of hearing about the kid who fell asleep during the president's speech and was caught on camera.  I guess I really don't understand why he is getting all of this publicity about it...he fell asleep!  He really should be ashamed of himself, but whatever!  Just my two cents.

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