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First Lady Laura Bush Spoke at Tornado-Ravaged Alabama High School Graduation

April 23, 2014

Last week, the Topeka Unified School District in Kansas invited First Lady Michelle Obama to deliver the May 17 commencement address at a first-ever combined graduation event for four area high schools. Some students and parents aren't happy out of concern that there won't be enough tickets to accommodate all of their family and friends at an 8,000 seat arena. Others, like the mother who complained "They've taken the glory and shine from the children and put on Mrs. Obama," apparently are motivated by something else.
While district spokesman Ron Harbaugh assured residents that discussions to resolve the logistic issues are underway, on one point all Americans should be able to agree. When the President or First Lady of the United States of America delivers a commencement address, it is rare opportunity for the students and their families to hear words of inspiration, commemoration and celebration from the nation's elected leaders. It is altogether fitting that First Lady Michelle Obama do this to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that began the desegregation of Topeka's--and America's--schools. Altogether fitting, that is, just as it was when First Lady Laura Bush addressed the graduates of tornado-ravaged Enterprise, Alabama.
On March 1, 2007, a tornado levelled Enterprise High School (EHS), killing eight students. While a message from President Bush was read to the 2007 graduating class, on May 29, 2008 First Lady Laura Bush delivered the commencement address in person to the 300-plus students who had to complete their classes at a nearby community college. During the ceremony, "Bush shook hands with each of the graduates as they accepted their diplomas, and the school gave her a small piece of the rubble from the old high school as a token of gratitude." As one excited student put it, "To have one of the most influential people in the world come down to little ol' Enterprise, that was pretty amazing."
Confirming her appearance only a week before the event, Mrs. Bush on behalf of the American people told the graduates of the still-recovering town:

As you graduate tonight, take with you memories of your teachers' and classmates' support after the storm, the blue and white worn by students at rival schools, and the donations that came pouring in from around the country. Take with you memories of the great sacrifices your teachers made to create a positive learning environment, and how your families supported you in these very difficult times. Use these memories as inspiration to move forward with the same great dignity you have used and shown since last year's storm.
America will be made a better place because of the lessons you've learned as Enterprise Wildcats, and then taught the rest of our country by your good example.

Hopefully, their good example will be followed by the families of Topeka, who have the rare honor of marking--and making--history with the First Lady of the United States. Sixty years after Brown, Let's hope that the school district, the students and their parents work through any logistical issues at a pace faster than "all deliberate speed."


About

Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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