I felt so honored to be selected as one of only 20 Tennessee volunteers to work at the Booker T. Washington High School graduation in Memphis, TN. These hard working high school seniors had proven their determination by winning the "2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge". As part of their victory, President Obama gave their commencement speech that special day in May that no one in attendance will ever forget.
I could not have been happier and more proud of anyone in my home state than those graduates! Most of these kids live below the poverty level in single-parent homes. Washington increased their graduation rate from 55% to 82%, and the pride shone on every face that walked across the stage as each student received their diploma and then shook the hand of The President of the United States who looked just like them.
The true joy in President Obama's heart was obvious as he took the time to shake every graduate's hand with a genuine smile across his face that didn't disappear for a second - unexpectedly staying after giving his speech.
It has been a very long time since I was in such a large venue where all of the energy in the room was so happy, positive, and filled with love. What an amazing accomplishment for these graduating seniors, the city of Memphis, and the entire state of Tennessee.
In the words of the extremely dedicated, loving, and one-in-a-million principal of Booker T. Washington, Alisha Kiner, "The astute wisdom of the late Booker Taliaferro Washington reminds us that “Character, not circumstances, makes the man.”