The White House’s “Commencement Challenge” Challenge

By Kristina

Mar 8, 2011 11:11am

When the White House announced its “Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge” last month, officials expected to be deluged with hundreds if not thousands of applications from students asking President Obama to speak at their graduation ceremonies.

After all, for the 2010 Commencement Challenge, more than one thousand schools applied for the honor. Kalamazaoo Central High school ultimately won.

This year the response was, shall we say, underwhelming.

Just three days before the original February 25 deadline, the White House had received only 14 applications.

Officials extended the deadline to this Friday, March 11.

Whether the poor showing was due to poor publicity, underachieving students, weak school administrators, or a lack of enthusiasm for President Obama, this sad state of affairs is one that the White House does not particularly want to discuss.

“We're pleased by the quality applications that are coming in,” said White House spokeswoman Gannet Tseggai, “and the President looks forward to encouraging young people to graduate from high school and pursue college and careers.”

CBS News Radio’s Peter Maer broke the story of the Commencement Challenge’s challenge, having obtained a February 22 internal White House memo noting "a major issue with the Commencement Challenge….As of yesterday we had received 14 applications and the deadline is Friday.”

The memo requested that staffers "please keep the application number close hold."

A February 28, 2011 memo reported 68 applications, Maer reported.

The memo asked White House officials to reach out to "friendly congressional, gubernatorial and mayoral offices" to seek applications. “We should also make sure the Cabinet is pushing the competition out to their lists.”

"Something isn't working,” the memo stated.

Indeed.

-Jake Tapper

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