A salutatorian. A future lawyer. And an actor. Up until Monday, all three were students at Kalamazoo Central High School in western Michigan, and all three were among those responsible for "We Are the Giants," the winning entry in the White House's "Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge." So all three were responsible for the prize: President Barack Obama, who came to town to deliver the commencement address at Central's graduation ceremony.
MTV News and Get Schooled — a national program aimed at increasing high school and college graduation rates — gave all three students video cameras to document their graduation and, of course, all the excitement that came with having the commander in chief in town to help them celebrate.
"I woke up on Monday, had two early morning interviews at 6 a.m. with local TV news stations, and then after that, I relaxed a bit," Central's salutatorian Simon Boehme told MTV News. "After that, I read over my speech, and then, well, I got a new tie, met my family, went out to lunch with the mayor of Kalamazoo, and then got ready. It was a pretty hectic day."
Nicole Allen, who will head to Western Michigan University in the fall and law school after that, had a busy day too. "This morning at 6:30, I had an interview with a local CBS news affiliate, and then I came home and tried to take a nap, but that didn't work out so well," she recounted. "Then, I had [graduation] rehearsal from about 8:30 to 10, and after that, I went home and finally managed to take that nap ... around 2 p.m., I started getting ready, only we had serious car problems. So I was rushing around, hoping I'd make it there on time!"
Due to Obama's appearance, Central's graduation ceremony was moved to nearby Western Michigan University, where the soon-to-be grads milled about anxiously until Principal Von Washington Jr. gathered them in an adjoining room, where they got the surprise of their lives: a meeting with Obama himself.
"I had no idea. I was actually filming some of it [for MTV], and I looked underneath the curtain, and I was like, 'Wait ... that's got to be Obama. Look at the shoes! From the ankles down, that's him,' " laughed Xavier Bolden, who stars in the "Giants" video and will study theater at WMU in the fall. "Still, though, when he came out, I was shocked! It was electrifying. Amazing. Everybody was screaming. Nobody was forming sentences."
"We were sitting in the room, and then all of a sudden, out walks the president!" Allen said. "It was completely a surprise! When he came in, I cried, but then I cried when I found out we won. People say I'm emotional, but it was so unexpected. I burst out crying. I was shaking. My whole body was."
And as for Obama's actual speech, well, all three students found his message of hard work, selflessness and service inspiring. Boehme even used his salutatory speech as a platform to ask Obama to form a youth advisory council ("I always knew I wanted to ask him about it," he said).
As they head out into the world, they'll always remember their graduation day and who they got to speak at it.
"I mean, the president is standing right in front of us! That doesn't happen every day," Allen said. "And to be in high school and have the president give your commencement speech, I won't ever forget 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.