Obama, Who Often Blames Bush Administration, Tells High School Grads, 'Don't Make Excuses'
In remarks to be delivered Monday evening at Kalamazoo Central High School, Obama says it's easy to blame others when problems arise. "We see it every day out in Washington, with folks calling each other names and making all sorts of accusations on TV," the president said.
He said the high school kids can and have done better than that.
The 1,700-student school in southwest Michigan landed Obama as its commencement speaker after winning the national Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge. It was among three finalists picked through public voting on the schools' videos and essays. The White House made the final selection.
The administration cited Kalamazoo Central's 80 percent-plus graduation rate, improvements in academic performance and a culturally rich curriculum.
About an hour before the ceremony, Obama surprised the 280 graduates by dropping in on them in the recreation center at Western Michigan University as they prepared for the big moment.
Walking around with a hand-held microphone, Obama told the students to work hard, keep their eyes on the prize and continue to carry with them a sense of excellence.
"There is nothing you can't accomplish," he said, suggesting they might consider public service. "I might be warming up the seat for you." Students rushed from the bleachers to shake Obama's hand and take cell phone pictures after he spoke.
Obama, who says a better-educated workforce will help the U.S. stay competitive globally, said in his prepared remarks that the school had set an example with its level of community and parental involvement and the high standards of its teachers.
"I think that America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo Central about what makes for a successful school in this new century," he said. "This is the key to our future."
He advised the graduates to work hard and take responsibility for their successes and their failures.
"You could have made excuses - our kids have fewer advantages, our schools have fewer resources, so how can we compete? You could have spent years pointing fingers - blaming parents, blaming teachers, blaming the principal or the superintendent or the government," the president said.
"But instead, you came together. You were honest with yourselves about where you were falling short. And you resolved to do better."
Education is widely seen as one hope for Michigan's long-struggling economy. The state has had the nation's highest unemployment rate for four consecutive years, including a 14 percent jobless rate in April. Thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost, many connected to the auto industry, and the state is trying to diversify its economy with alternative energy, biomedical and other jobs - most of which require education beyond high school.
The White House said more than 170,000 people voted in the contest. Cincinnati's Clark Montessori Junior High and High School and the Denver School of Science and Technology were the other finalists.
Kalamazoo Central's valedictorian, Cindy Lee, said she was excited but jittery about sharing the stage with the president.
"The whole school is excited about it. The whole community is excited. It's on the news every single day," Lee, 18, said last week.