President Obama Delivers Commencement Speech At Kalamazoo Central High School

'Be a part of something bigger than yourself,' he urged the Michigan students, who won Get Schooled's Race to the Top contest.

In early March, students at Kalamazoo Central High School submitted a video to Get Schooled’s Race to the Top competition, a nationwide search to find the school most dedicated to making — as Get Schooled put it — “great strides on personal responsibility, academic excellence and college readiness.” More than 1,000 high schools across the country entered; Kalamazoo Central won.

On Monday (June 7), the school finally received its prize: President Barack Obama showed up to deliver the commencement address for the class of 2010.

And it was worth the wait. Delivering his first-ever high school graduation speech, President Obama lauded Kalamazoo Central’s students for their hard work, dedication and ingenuity and called the school a model for success in the 21st century.

“It gives me great confidence to know that we’ve got such incredible young leaders that are going to be remaking the world in so many ways,” Obama said. “I’m here tonight because I think America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo Central about what makes a successful school in this new century.”

Obama earned cheers for those remarks and for another passage early in his commencement speech. He mentioned an article in the local newspaper that quoted a Central student named Kelsey Wilson saying that her school “never gets credit for what we do.”

“Well, Kelsey, I’m here tonight because … I know, and America knows what you’ve got at Kalamazoo Central,” Obama said, singling Wilson out from the audience. “You are amazing. We know!”

Obama got more than a few laughs and whoops when he admitted that, in his younger days, he “sometimes … partied too much” (“This is a cautionary tale; don’t be cheering when I say that,” he chuckled) but that he quickly learned that the only way to achieve lasting success in this world was through tireless dedication and hard work. And to that end, he also used the speech as an opportunity to give the class of 2010 some post-grad pointers (“Right now, you’re getting plenty of advice from everybody. Some of it’s helpful,” he joked. “And so I hate to pile on, but while I’m here, what the heck?”), urging them to never settle for instant gratification, take responsibility for their successes and failures, and strive to expand their horizons — not just in the field of education, but in life as well.

“Don’t just hang out with people who look like you or go to the same church as you or share the same political views. Broaden your experiences, because that’s how you’ll learn what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes,” Obama said. “Be a part of something bigger than yourself … because there is work to be done, and your country needs you. We’ve got an economy to rebuild … we’ve got an oil spill to clean up, we’ve got clean energy to discover. … It’s going to be up to you. Pursue excellence in everything you do. After all, you are the Giants, and with the education you got here, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

Before delivering the commencement address — which was held at nearby Western Michigan University, due to the large crowds — Obama met with Kalamazoo Central’s graduating class in a special ceremony. The school’s video (called “We Are the Giants”) was selected as the winning entry by Obama and the Department of Education.

Obama surprised the Kalamazoo Central seniors before his commencement speech — check out their reactions !

Get Schooled is a national program aimed at increasing high school and college graduation rates and promoting the importance of education, developed by Viacom in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.