By John Celock
First Lady Michelle Obama has changed her travel plans to Topeka, Kan. in order to allow students at the city’s five high schools to have separate graduate ceremonies with unlimited guests.
Obama will visit the city on May 16 to speak at a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education rather than speak at a combined graduation for the five high schools on May 17, the Topeka Capitol-Journal reported Thursday. The combined plan, centered around Obama’s speech, lead to over 1,500 students and parents signing a petition to demand a change, noting that the combined ceremony would have limited students to six guests a piece.
“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,” school board president Janel Johnson told the Capital-Journal.
Students and up to six guests are invited to attend the first lady’s speech on May 16.
Obama’s original plan had caused concern for state lawmakers, who noted that the voices of the students needed to be honored by the school district and the first lady. The student protest garnered international attention.
Obama’s original plan was supported by Topeka Councilman Chad Manspeaker (D) who told The Celock Report earlier this week that students would long remember the first lady speaking rather than which relatives attended.
GOP state lawmakers in Kansas cheered the compromise, noting that the voices of students and parents had been heard.
“I think that the students got what they wished for,” state Rep. Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) told The Celock Report. “I think it is great that everybody was accommodated.”
State Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco) described the new plan as a “good compromise.”
“They have graduation and she can speak on the anniversary,” he told The Celock Report. “It worked out well.”
The original graduation plan marked a rocky welcome for Obama in a state where she has long-standing familial ties. Obama’s mother-in-law, Ann Dunham, was born and raised in Wichita and the president has relatives across the state. In addition, presidential cousin Milton Wolf, a tea party favorite, is challenging U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) in the state’s GOP U.S. Senate primary.
State Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee) told The Celock Report that he is glad that Obama listened to the students.
“I thought that was a very well thought out plan there,” Hildabrand said. “That shows that she was listening to the concerns of the students and families. She made the right priority there. I was very impressed.”