New date for first lady’s Topeka graduation speech

(AP & Local) – Michelle Obama is rearranging plans for a speech before graduating high school seniors in Topeka, Kan., in the face of protests that her appearance at a combined graduation ceremony for five schools would limit seating for families and friends.

She had accepted the district’s invitation to speak May 17 at the combined ceremony to mark that day’s 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing school segregation. The case originated in Topeka.

Under a new plan worked out by the district, the first lady will speak on May 16 at a “senior recognition day” ceremony at the same 8,000-seat arena where the combined ceremony was to be held. The combined ceremony is being scrapped and the five schools will hold separate graduation exercises instead.

“We are thrilled to have Mrs. Obama visit Topeka next month and we appreciate the support throughout the community to make this an outstanding weekend for our students and their families,” a spokesman for the First Lady said.  “Once we learned about the ticketing concerns from some of the students and families, we were eager to find a solution that enabled all of the students to celebrate their special day.”

Since Mrs. Obama will no longer speak at a graduation, seating would not need to be limited due to concerns over her security.

Eighteen-year-old Taylor Gifford had launched an online petition urging the school district to reconsider its plans. Gifford and the more than 1,200 people who had signed it expressed concern that Mrs. Obama’s visit would limit guest seating.

The first lady’s office announced the compromise while President Barack Obama was traveling in Asia.

Michelle Obama will now address graduating high school seniors in Topeka, Kan., a day earlier than originally planned, the White House said Thursday, addressing concerns by students and parents that her participation in a combined graduation ceremony for five schools would limit seating for family and friends.A furor over what the Topeka public school district considered an honor erupted after plans for Mrs. Obama’s address were announced.

She had accepted the district’s invitation to speak May 17 at the combined ceremony to mark that day’s 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing school segregation. The case originated in Topeka.

Under a new plan worked out by the district, the first lady will speak on May 16 at a “senior recognition day” ceremony at the same 8,000-seat arena where the combined ceremony was to be held. That ceremony is being scrapped so the five schools can hold separate graduation exercises instead.

Since Mrs. Obama will no longer speak at a graduation, seating would not need to be limited due to concerns over her security.

The first lady’s communications director, Maria Cristina Gonzalez Noguera, said Mrs. Obama wants everyone to have the opportunity to attend a graduation ceremony.

“Once we learned about the concerns of some students, we were eager to find a solution that enabled all of the students and their families to celebrate the special day,” the spokeswoman said Thursday.

Eighteen-year-old Taylor Gifford had launched an online petition urging the school district to reconsider its plans. Gifford and the more than 1,200 people who had signed it expressed concern that Mrs. Obama’s visit would limit guest seating.

The first lady’s office announced the compromise while President Barack Obama was traveling in Asia.

 

The five high schools in Topeka Public Schools will be unified for this event.

 

Doors to the Kansas Expocentre will open at 3:00 p.m. with the graduate procession beginning at approximately 5:00 p.m.  The First Lady’s address is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.  Additional details are still forthcoming.

Each high school will have their individual graduation ceremonies on Saturday, May 17 at the Kansas Expocentre with the Topeka West ceremony at 10:30 a.m., Highland Park at 1:30 p.m. and Topeka High at 4:30 p.m.  No tickets will be needed for the Saturday event and there will be no restrictions on the number of people who want to attend Saturday’s ceremonies.

 

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