Parents Protest Potential Michelle Obama Graduation Visit, But Not For The Reason You’d Think

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First Lady Michelle Obama Travels to China - Day 7First Lady Michelle Obama is considering a visit to the school district tied to the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education decision, and some students and parents would prefer that she not attend…but not for the reason you might be thinking. The Topeka School District in Kansas would need to combine graduation ceremonies for five area high schools into an 8,000 seat arena in order to accommodate Obama’s visit, which would leave only a limited number of seats for each student. This is unacceptable to some families. Others are worried that the 60th anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education decision, which outlawed segregation in schools, would overshadow the student’s celebration. Both reasons seem pretty valid to me, though considering the honor I would hope a better compromise could be made.

Thankfully, Ron Harbaugh, spokesman for the school district, says that discussions are under way to work out the logistics of the visit, including how many tickets each student would be given, and emphasized that priority seating would be given to families. According to Harbaugh, Obama was asked to speak at the graduation specifically to commemorate the anniversary of the Brown decision, and the district would even provide an outside broadcast for anyone who couldn’t fit in the arena. Which seems like a sorry compromise when families would mainly be there to see their child pass a life-changing milestone.

It’s not just parents who are disatisfied with the prospect of the First Lady speaking. Some students are also displeased. One student, Taylor Gifford, started an online petition Thursday urging the district to reconsider their plains. Over 1,200 people have already signed. According to Gifford:

“I really would like it to have a peaceful solution, but there is so much misinformation going on.”

Taylor says she was initially really excited at the prospect of seeing Michelle Obama speak, but once she heard rumors about limited seating, she felt that the focus was shifting from the students to Obama’s historic visit:

“People think it’s a great opportunity, but it’s the graduates’ time. They are getting that diploma that they worked so hard for,” Gifford said. “Families are feeling that they are being cheated out of the loved ones special day.”

In case you think that most of the opposition is coming from the more conservative members of the student body, there are plenty of liberal kids who unsure of Obama’s visit too. Students like Abbey Rubottom. According to The Post, Abbey describes herself as a “die-hard democrat,” but doesn’t want Obama’s visit to steal the student’s thunder:

“No disrespect for the first lady, and it’s amazing that she wants to come speak, I just think it doesn’t belong at graduation.”

As much of an honor it would be for the First Lady to speak at this graduation, I can completely understand why some folks aren’t comfortable with the idea. Having the First Lady attend their graduation might be a cool story for students to tell their grand kids, but the attention Obama will receive would definitely take away from their day. And how sad would it be to have to limit how many family members you can invite because the venue is so small? Eight thousand might seem like a huge number to come, but these Midwestern schools often have thousands of kids in attendance, so when you combine five schools, 8,000 is just a drop in the bucket.

Some, more level-headed, people have suggested that the graduations go on as planned and that Obama could perhaps speak at a separate event for the schools. This compromise seems like a win-win for everyone, but I understand that budget constraints  might preclude this some happening. I just hope that the district can come to a decision that makes everyone happy.