Saturday, April 19, 2014


Michelle Obama is scheduled to give a commencement address at a combined graduation ceremony for five high schools in Topeka, Kansas, on the sixtieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which concerned Topeka's school system. Some of the people involved in the graduation are upset:
If expanding the guest list to include Michelle Obama at graduation for high school students in the Kansas capital city means fewer seats for friends and family, some students and their parents would prefer the first lady not attend.

A furor over what the Topeka school district considers an honor has erupted after plans were announced for Obama to address a combined graduation ceremony for five area high schools next month an 8,000-seat arena. For some, it was the prospect of a tight limit on the number of seats allotted to each graduate. For others, it was the notion that Obama's speech, tied to the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregation in schools, would overshadow the student's big day.

... Taylor Gifford, 18, ... started an online petition Thursday evening to urge the district to reconsider its plans. She and the more than 1,200 people who had signed it expressed concern that Obama's visit would limit the seating options for family and friends.

"I really would like it to have a peaceful solution, but there is so much misinformation going on," Gifford said.
Lefties who are reading this are accusing Topeka of being just as racist as it was sixty years ago, while wingnuts are expressing schadenfreude. But have you read Taylor Gifford's petition? I really believe she doesn't mean any disrespect to the First Lady at all:
We are honored to have the First Lady speak at commencement and the student body was literally crying and jumping for joy when the news was announced and we are in no way shape or form ungrateful for what the Board has done for us.

There are problems that come with the combining of the commencements. First of all, for most families in [Unified School District] 501, money is short and we have spent hundreds of dollars buying graduation announcements that are now incorrect. The district has stated they will not refund this. Topeka High School's graduation on its own takes approximately two and a half hours. The combining of five high schools will increase that to about six hours. With increased security the total time will be brought up to eight hours. Secondly, families have many people coming from states away taking sick leave to see the graduation. They will come to Topeka, only to find that they cannot be involved. Those with divorced families have to choose which side of the family they want to invite, this doesn't even include siblings.

This petition will go to the Board to keep graduation times the same and find a way for the speech to be given at all commencements, whether the First Lady is there in person or she has her speech recorded and replayed.
It seems as if these kids are deeply invested in the ceremony (in a way that I, as a cynical 1970s high school graduate, can't quite imagine), and that they've made complicated arrangements for this event that are now in doubt, which upsets them even though they were thrilled when the First Lady chose to speak to them. It seems as if they're really trying to avoid difficulties for their families. Believe me, a hater wouldn't have bothered to put that bit about "jumping for joy" into her petition -- nobody in modern America who truly hates the Obamas even tries anymore to show minimal respect.

Another kid quoted in the story has the same complaints (and proposed solution but calls herself a "die-hard Democrat." Why would she bother to say that, in a deeply Republican state, if she were a hater?

I don't know about the parents. I don't know about the other kids. But these two don't seem motivated by hate.


Ken_L said...

I suspect that like many kids, they are totally uninterested in politics and politicians and just want to enjoy the day with family and friends. I would have found the idea of an impersonal 8 hour mass graduation with 4 other high schools intolerable even if Jesus intended to use it to launch the second coming.

Love the refreshing honesty about "families have many people coming from states away taking sick leave to see the graduation". I can hear lots of people saying "ssssshhh you're not supposed to say that".

Ken_L said...

BTW WTF??? "I really would like it to have a peaceful solution"???? Is Taylor planning a Bundy style act of protest if her demands are not met :D?

Improbable Joe said...

The part where the petition suggested a recorded or possibly broadcasted speech seems to suggest that the motives are as stated. That sounds like a fairly rational criticism of the situation and provides a common-sense solution as well. I'm cool with it.

irishguy said...

Well, I sympathize with Miss Gifford. Seems to me it's not the speaker she objects to. In fact, she seems thrilled to have a world-famous speaker.

It's the logistics.

The Topeka board has announced that each family will get six tickets. Before, each graduation held separately had no limit on the number of people who could attend.

There will also be some 800 grads getting their diplomas that day. Do the math.

If they call one grad to the stage every 15 seconds, it will take them three hours and 20 minutes just to hand out the diplomas.

Again, this is the age of technology. The solution to have the First Lady's speech delivered at one graduation and simulcast to others on the same day, or recorded for later seems to make sense.

irishguy said...
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William Teach said...

Here here, excellent post. Sometimes things are exactly what they seem, what people say they are, and there's no racism, no politics involved. Something that bloggers and pundits on both sides forget.

And, yeah, it does seem that these kids might be a little too invested in the graduation. Maybe it's a regional thing?

Victor said...

I also graduated HS in the 70's, and didn't particularly care about the graduation ceremony.

I did attend that, to keep my parents and grandparents happy, but skipped out on my college graduation.
It took me 5 years, because I worked while going through college, so my class actually graduated the year before I did, and I didn't feel motivated to go.

Victor said...

Oh, and no, it doesn't sound as if the kids are motivated by anti-Obama hatred.

irishguy said...

William, I am sure it is more of a personal thing rather than regional. I am sure there are kids everywhere who love high school, and others who are more, well, indifferent about the experience.

And if they want to invest in a day that will definitely come only once in a lifetime, well, who are we to say it is "too much"?

Palli said...

Occasions like this with an important speaker are for show. Only a few people get to meet the speaker and shake hands-and they really want the opportunity to do just that-so they project their desire unto the "masses".

In fact, considering it is Topeka, I wouldn't want the First Lady to attend a mass event for the safety of all involved. I don't trust the traitors in our society.

aimai said...

I think its ridiculous to co-opt 5 schools graduations. A highschool is just not a big enough venue for a FLOTUS speech but you can't fix that problem by forcibly combining them. And highschool graduation apparently is still important and significant in Topeka. The right thing to have done is to have invited the graduates to a special event, graduates only, the day before the graduations. Take the damned stadium and invite them to hear the first lady--no parents allowed. That would make more sense and have more impact and also let the kids and their families celebrate.

Highschool graduations are long enough, dull enough, and expensive enough--they are redeemed only by the intimacy of the event and the sense that you are recognized by your community. All of that gets lost when a major political figure such as FLOTUS or POTUS gets involved. The amount of (totally n ecessary) security makes the entire thing a massive ordeal. I took my very young children to a small, 600 person fundraiser for BO years ago and the security theater involved turned it into a major ordeal. I can't imagine putting people's grandparents through it for a speech like this on an occasion like this.

Roger said...

These kids will never have another chance to get high with the Secret Service.

ForceCrate said...

Roger! (Don't give away our plans!)

BTW: is it still 20 dollars in downtown Topeka?