KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) - The roughly 300 graduates of Kalamazoo Central High School shook13 sets of hands as they walked across the stage at theircommencement Monday -- including those of the president of theUnited States.
"I'm overpowered with joy," graduate Christian Arias told 24Hour News 8 after the ceremony.
Arias plans to head to Western Michigan University nextyear.
And he probably wouldn't be able to do that, he said, if itweren't for one of the programs that drew President Barack Obama toCentral High School's commencement: the Kalamazoo Promise. Theprivately funded Promise offers up to four years of free collegetuition and fees for qualifying graduates of Kalamazoo PublicSchools.
"It pushed me to try harder," Arias said. "And I think if Iwouldn't have had it, I probably wouldn't be in a good situationright now."
He will join fellow graduate Cara Cunliffe at Western next year.She's one of the students who put together the video that helpedKalamazoo Central land the top spot in the president's commencementchallenge.
"I still can't believe that it happened," she said. "I'm stillin shock."
Cunliffe said she was shocked in particular by her chance tomeet Obama.
"I'll remember when he surprised us in the waiting area," shesaid. "Everybody was crying. He came up to me, he looked at me,shook my hand and said, 'How are you? Are you OK?' "
Still crying, Cunliffe said she was able to say she was fine andthank the president. "It was amazing," she said. "He actually spoketo me."
And what will class president Monique Gardner remember most?
"I know most people will say, 'When President Obama spoke,' butfor me, it's more of when I got my diploma," Gardner said. "Becauseit's something that I worked hard for. And it's something thateveryone worked hard for."
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