Obama delivers commencement address at Memphis high school

high school graduation

On Monday, President Obama delivered the commencement address at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tenn., which was named last week as the winner of the 2011 Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge.

The school's alumni include composer and educator Lucie E. Campbell; Willie Herenton, the first African-American mayor of Memphis; Maurice White, founder of the band Earth, Wind & Fire; and civil rights attorney Benjamin Hooks.

"When White House officials called Principal Alisha Kiner to say her school had been selected as a finalist, according to the recorded phone conversation, she told them 'I think I'm going to faint. I have to sit down,'" writes The Washington Post's Michael Alison Chandler. "Kiner made several changes to reform the struggling school when she took over in 2005. She established gender-specific classes for ninth- and 10th-graders and nurtured a family environment with advisers keeping in close touch with students and urging them on to graduation."

"Your journey has just begun," the President said in his remarks at the school, where graduation rates rose from 55 percent in 2007 to 81.6 percent in 2010. "Your diploma is not a free pass. It won't protect you against every setback or challenge or mistake. You'll make some, I promise. You're going to have to keep working hard. You're going to have to keep pushing yourselves. And you'll find yourselves sometimes in situations where folks have had an easier time, they're a little bit ahead of you, and you're going to have to work harder than they are. And you may be frustrated by that. But if you do push yourselves, if you build on what you've already accomplished here, then I couldn't be more confident about your futures. I'm hopeful and I'm excited about what all of you can achieve. And I know that armed with the skills and experience and the love that you've gained at Booker T. Washington High School, you're ready to make your mark on the world."

President Obama's commencement address at Booker T. Washington High School can be viewed here, and the school's winning video can be viewed here.

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