Every year, the president, vice president and many other politicians and celebrities receive hundreds of requests to speak at high school and college graduations. Who knows what prompts them to select their choices, but a lucky few schools are chosen. You would think the students and their parents would be excited to have a famous celebrity speak at their graduation, but that is not the case for 5 Topeka, Kansas high schools.
The school board in Topeka was among the hundreds of schools that extended invitations to President Barack Obama and to First Lady Michelle Obama. To their surprise, Michelle Obama decided to accept their invitation. The school board was excited, especially since their high school graduation occurs on the 60th anniversary of the famous Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education that ended school segregation.
Instead of allowing each of the five high schools in Topeka’s Unified School District 501 to hold their own graduation ceremonies, district officials decided to combine the graduation ceremonies and hold them at the 10,000 seat Kansas Expocentre. However, the move to the Expocentre has caused a growing number of parents and students to protest the plans and the idea of Michelle Obama speaking at their graduation. Relocating the ceremonies means that each graduating student will be limited to the number of family and friends that will be allowed to attend.
High school graduation is supposed to be about the students, but in Topeka, it has become all about Michelle Obama and the students are being slighted. On Thursday, Taylor Rose launched a petition drive on Change.org to get the district to allow each school to hold their own ceremony and perhaps record the First Lady’s message and play it at each of the ceremonies.
The petition starts out:
“On Thursday April 17, 2014, USD 501 announced that the First Lady Michelle Obama was going to be speaking at commencement. We were also informed that seats would be limited to around 4 per student for families to come and that all commencements would be combined.”
“There are problems that come with the combining of the commencements. First of all, for most families in 501, money is short and we have spent hundreds of dollars buying graduation announcements that are now incorrect. The district has stated they will not refund this. Topeka High School’s graduation on its own takes approximately two and a half hours. The combining of five high schools will increase that to about six hours. With increased security the total time will be brought up to eight hours. Secondly, families have many people coming from states away taking sick leave to see the graduation. They will come to Topeka, only to find that they cannot be involved. Those with divorced families have to choose which side of the family they want to invite, this doesn’t even include siblings.”
With a goal of 5,000 signatures, at the time of writing this article, Rose had nearly 2,000 signatures on the petition.
I wonder if the school district is willing to accept the cost of having the First Lady speak at the graduation ceremony? When she or the president visits a city, it costs thousands of dollars in extra law enforcement security, street closures, and so on. Neither the White House nor the Democratic Party are going to pay for the costs. The city of Topeka shouldn’t have to burden the cost either. It should all fall upon the school district.
It’s obvious that the school district officials care more about having the prestige of hosting Michelle Obama and placing the spotlight on her and the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education than they do about commemorating the accomplishments of their students. I hope that Taylor Rose gets over 100,000 signatures on her petition telling the school district to think more of the students and their families than for Michelle Obama.