KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - Kalamazoo Central High School valedictorian Cindy Lee is farless jittery about speaking to hundreds of her fellow graduatesMonday than she is about sharing a stage with one man: PresidentBarack Obama.
Obama will be giving a graduation speech of his own to the1,700-student southwest Michigan school, which snagged the honorfor winning the national Race to the Top High School CommencementChallenge.
"The whole school is excited about it. The whole community isexcited. It's on the news every single day," Lee, 18, said lastweek. "And I'm also kind of nervous about giving a speech at thesame time as the president."
While Lee said Obama's presence won't mean changes for herspeech, it does mean some unusual preparations for a high schoolgraduation, including background checks on graduating seniors whomight get to meet the president and restrictions on the number ofinvitees.
Each of 300 graduates received eight tickets to the ceremonyat Western Michigan University's 5,000-seat University Arena.Students at the district's three high schools also could gettickets, but the event is not open to the general public.
A few thousand community members have instead gotten ticketsto watch the event on big screen TVs at three locations across thecity. A Kalamazoo church also will carry a live broadcast.
The last presidential speech at a high school commencementwas in 2008, when President George W. Bush spoke to graduates ofGreensburg High School in Kansas about a year after the town hadbeen devastated by a tornado.
Lee expects Obama to talk to Kalamazoo about the importanceof expanding and improving education, especially because thecontest that brings him there was held as part of hisadministration's focus on improving graduation rates and schoolperformance.
Kalamazoo Central was one of three Race to the Top HighSchool Commencement Challenge finalists chosen through publicvoting on videos and essays submitted by the schools. The WhiteHouse said more than 170,000 people voted. Cincinnati's ClarkMontessori Junior High and High School and the Denver School ofScience and Technology in Denver were the other finalists.
In choosing the Michigan school, the White House noted thedistrict's privately and anonymously funded Kalamazoo Promiseprogram. The district's 11,600 students are guaranteed scholarshipscovering 65 percent to 100 percent of a student's college tuitionat any of the state's 15 public universities or 28 communitycolleges for four years.
The five-year-old program has paid out about $17 million for1,500 graduates and expects to pay $7.5 million this school year.
The White House also cited Kalamazoo Central's 80percent-plus graduation rate, improvements in academic performanceand a culturally rich curriculum.
Education is widely viewed as one hope for Michigan'slong-struggling economy.
The state has had the nation's highest unemployment rate forfour consecutive years, including a 14 percent jobless rate inApril. Thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost, manyconnected to the auto industry. Those jobs likely are gone forgood, and the state is trying to diversify its economy withalternative energy, biomedical and other jobs -- most of whichrequire education beyond high school.
The president's visit has many in Kalamazoo feeling theirwork is paying off.
"It's the effort of the whole community, a joint effort, thathas gained the attention of the President of the United States,"said Pastor Addis Moore of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which willbroadcast the ceremony on a first-come, first-served basis.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
In front of a festive downtown crowd at Rosa Parks Circle.
Two people were taken to the hospital after one vehicle crossed the center line, causing a head-on crash in Ada Township Friday night.
Michigan State Police has added eight new canine teams and four replacement teams that graduated from the MSP 2013 Basic Canine School Dec. 6.