President Obama to Speak at Kalamazoo Central High School Commencement

Michigan school wins online challenge that highlighted nation's top schools.

May 04, 2010, 2:07 PM

May 4, 2010— -- When the seniors at Kalamazoo Central High School don their caps and gowns this June, they'll hear from their principal, the class valedictorian, and one very high profile commencement speaker -- the President of the United States.

This morning, President Obama announced that he will travel to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to deliver the commencement address for the school's class of 2010.

Watch 'World News' for more on Kalamazoo Central High, tonight on ABC.

"I have promised to speak at a high school commencement every year to highlight schools that are encouraging excellence and preparing their students for college and careers," Obama said today, before adding a shout out to Kalamazoo Central's mascot: "Go Giants!"

The school was one of over a thousand schools that had asked the president to come, as part of the administration's "Race to the Top" Commencement Challenge.

President Obama himself chose the winning school, after some 170,000 online voters selected finalist schools based on a videos featuring students and posted on

Six schools were invited by the White House to create videos, and when camera crews showed up, each school had 10 hours to shoot footage.

"Kalamazoo Central -- 150 years ago it was the first public high school in Michigan," says a student narrator in the video. "Now it is the home of the Kalamazoo promise, offering every student four years of free public university tuition."

One of the students featured in the video, senior Xavier Bolden, 18, recited a poem about Kalamazoo Central that was written by a faculty member. Today, he shared his pride and excitement over his school's big win.

"I can't believe that President Obama saw my face," said Bolden. "And he decided to pick ours, and that is a very humbling experience, and I'm still in shock."

Bolden plans to study theater in college, and he said that nearly all of his college tuition will be paid through the "Kalamazoo Promise" program. Funded by anonymous donors, the program is one reason more than 80 percent of the high school's students graduate.

Kalamazoo Students Win Obama as Graduation Speaker

Kalamazoo Central's video also touted the school's diverse student body and creative curriculum, which encourages students to participate in programs like professional-level art classes. The school says it its student body is 51 percent African American, 39 percent Caucasian, 7 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian American and 1 percent Native American.

Principal Von Washington Jr. said he was thrilled that his students' accomplisments were getting some presidential attention.

"I feel great about the students every day," said Washington. "I feel they're doing things at the highest caliber and are competitive with all those in the nation every day. You just don't get a chance to show it all the time."

In a video announcing the contest results, Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised all of the schools for participating. He said each application showed schools "promote academic excellence and prepare their students to graduate college- and career-ready."

In the final round of public voting, Kalamazoo Central had gone head-to-head with five other schools spread across the country, from Florida to California.

One of the finalist schools, the Denver School of Science and Technology in Colorado, can boast that 100 percent of its class of 2010 has been accepted to 4-year colleges. In Lawndale, California, the Environmental Charter School focuses on learning skills for the "green" economy.

The Obama administration said on its website that it intends to have a Cabinet secretary or other senior official speak at each of the five runner-up schools.

And as for the Kalamazoo students who'll get to see the president on their graduation stage? Xavier Bolden said he and his classmates can't wait.

"I was looking forward to [graduation] before, but now? It adds to the excitement. It truly does," Bolden said. "If President Barack Obama wants to meet me, I'd probably faint."

ABC's Sunlen Miller and John Berman contributed to this report.

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