By TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL, April 27
The brouhaha surrounding first lady Michelle Obama’s address to Topeka Unified School District 501’s seniors has been quelled, largely due to the first lady’s offer to change her schedule upon learning of the controversy that greeted news her presence would require significant changes in the traditional graduation ceremonies.
It was a gracious move by the first lady, although she probably wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of speaking to a group that would include a lot of people who were upset that their graduation traditions and plans had been altered so she could address all the district’s graduating seniors. She could have just backed away from the whole thing, however. That she didn’t, and took the high road by reaching out to USD 501 officials to propose an accommodation, indicates she wants to come to Topeka and speak to the young people who have completed high school and are preparing to move on with their lives.
A first lady always receives invitations to speak at more events than she can possibly attend. That Michelle Obama decided to accept the invitation to come to Topeka is an honor, one that now can be recognized as such.
Topeka USD 501 officials in December invited the first lady to speak to the district’s graduating seniors on May 17, the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board, which desegregated public schools. To ask the nation’s first black first lady to address the seniors on such an anniversary was a good idea then, and still is.
School district officials have been roundly criticized for how they handled the whole affair, and perhaps things could have been done better. But there really wasn’t much USD 501 officials could do or say until the White House was ready to announce whether Michelle Obama had accepted the invitation, which it finally did on April 17. Making an alternate plan — such as the one now in place — would have involved some cost, and would have been for naught had the invitation not been accepted.
The schedule now calls for the first lady to speak at a recognition ceremony for all USD 501 graduating seniors at 6 p.m. Friday, May 16, at the Kansas Expocentre. Each student will get a ticket and up to six tickets for friends and family. High school graduation ceremonies will be Saturday, May 17.
Students and parents who reacted positively to the revised plan said their earlier displeasure was with the school district and how it handled the affair rather than with the first lady.
That message could have been made more clearly, but the community gets another chance when the first lady speaks May 16. Topekans should make it clear they are honored by her presence.