Before he took the stage Monday to give the commencement address at Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, President Obama took a few moments to meet with the school's seniors to offer some special words of wisdom.
As they screamed and held out their cell phones and digital cameras to get snaps of Obama, the president made his way around the auditorium and shook the hands of the young men and women he hopes will pave the way for a renewed focus on college education in America.
"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."
At one point, a girl yelled, "Oh my God! I love you, Obama," as the smiling president reached out with both hands and greeted the throng of students, who looked like they were breathlessly awaiting the arrival of a teen pop star, not the leader of the free world. And, wouldn't you know it, seconds after pressing the flesh, they rushed to update their Facebook statuses and tweet about their presidential moment.
"I'm not going to make a long speech now, because I've got a long speech later," the president told the rowdy students in a smaller gathering in the school's gym before the official commencement ceremony. "I wanted to come by in a less formal atmosphere to just let you know how incredibly proud I am, your parents are, your principal is, your teachers are, your superintendent is, of everything that you've done."
Though he jokily brushed off complaints that after a recent commencement address at the University of Michigan it seems the administration has a bias toward Michigan, Obama explained why he chose the school's "We Are the Giants" video as the winner of his Race to the Top challenge. "The truth is that what we saw here going on was not only the community coming together with the promise, not only teachers and principals dedicating themselves, but we saw young people who were committed. And young people who didn't buy into this whole notion that somehow public schools can't be as good as private schools, that only kids from certain backgrounds can succeed in schools. You guys didn't buy into all those stereotypes."
He praised their diversity, their ability to get together and build a better community, and he asked them to carry with them the confidence that "if you are working hard, if you keep your eyes on the prize, if you internalize a sense of excellence, if you carry with you the sense of community you got here in your hometown, there is nothing you can't accomplish."
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.