President Barack Obama made some new friends on Monday when he delivered the commencement address at Michigan's Kalamazoo Central High School, the winning school among thousands of entrants to the White House's "Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge." Before delivering his speech, the president surprised the class of 2010 with an unannounced informal meeting, where he shook hands and exchanged one-on-one words with the impending graduates.
"It was the most amazing thing ever that could ever happen to anybody," one particularly enthusiastic student gushed, while another classmate chimed in, "That moment right there changed my life, just meeting the president."
During the surprise meeting, Obama praised the high school for its strong sense of community and its promising ideals. "If you carry with you the sense of community you've got here in your hometown, there is nothing you can't accomplish," he told the students.
The president's words touched Kalamazoo's graduates greatly. As one student put it, "Giving our school so much praise and saying how much he loved the community and everything, him talking about education [and] going further — it was just really good."
But Obama didn't even have to open his mouth to thrill the crowd, as his mere presence earned him instant rock-star status with Kalamazoo Central's nearly 300 graduating seniors. Several students leapt up and down screaming at the top of their lungs, others were left in awe after shaking Obama's hand, while some even found the time to share the good news on social networking sites.
"I just updated my Facebook status: 'Just met Barack Obama and made friends with the Secret Service,' " one girl happily revealed.
Although the reactions to Obama's appearance varied from student to student, the overall vibe of excitement and pride hanging in the air at Kalamazoo Central High School was palpable. "This is the biggest moment in history and we're all a part of it," said one overjoyed classmate. "The whole class of 2010, I'm so excited to just be here in the moment."
"The biggest moment in history" might be something of an overstatement, but Obama's arrival at Kalamazoo certainly armed the students with an emotional touchstone to look back upon as they move forward with the next phase of their lives. As one graduate astutely observed: "It's incredible how one man can bring everyone together like that."
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.