“I am so glad to say that this will be my last year of high school at Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter High School in one of the most significant years of our time,” Jasmine Williams,19,wrote in February. “My classmates and I would feel the greatest honor and appreciation if either First Lady Michelle or President Obama could be the guest speaker at our graduation.”
In Howard University's Cramton Auditorium Wednesday morning,Williams stood before the other 97 graduates of her class and introduced the first lady,who told the students that they are “more than ready” for the journey ahead of them.
“I am here because Jasmine invited me,” Obama said,laughing. Obama joked that she had been asked to speak at several more graduation ceremonies this year than last,but settled on two. She spoke at the University of California, Merced,in May,after students at the new campus flooded her with Valentines cards.
“On June 3,2009,we will stop being kids who grew up in the city of Washington,D.C.,” Obama read from Jasmine's letter. “We will become adults who will be faced with some of the hardest challenges since 1932. We will be put to the test to see if we can withstand the challenges of today's world. This test has no guidelines or study guides on how to pass.”
“Jasmine,I'm here today to tell you you're absolutely right,” Obama said.
“Getting her here means I can do anything,” said Williams,who plans to intern this summer in the White House through the D.C. Scholars program.
Williams hopes to attend North Carolina A&T University and major in political science.
Obama told the students of the doubts people expressed about whether she could fit in when she decided to attend Princeton University. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor reminds her of herself,Obama said,a minority woman who also went to Princeton and overcame doubt.
She listed others who did the same thing: Washington Mathematics Science Technology administrator Charles Bolden,Dr. LaSalle Leffall of the Howard University School of Medicine,musician Herbie Hancock and Barack Obama.
“See,at some point in all of these lives … we all felt a little like you might feel right now,” she said. “We had doubts and we still do.”
“In the end,we were all more than ready,” she said,naming several graduates she said fit that description as well.
One of them was valedictorian and soon-to-be biochemistry major,Jaren Davis,17,who graduated with a 4.20 GPA. He plans to attend Georgetown University on a full scholarship. A family history of cancer motivated him to pursue a career in radiology.
“When I came here two years ago,I never dreamed that there would be an African-American president nor that I would be speaking at graduation in front of the first lady,” Davis told his classmates.
“Personally,I could not have asked God for a better high school experience,” said Davis,who thanked the school for taking him from a “bashful band player to an outspoken debater.”
“Maybe,Jaren,you will assume Dr. Lefall's life work and discover the key to an anti-cancer drug that destroys tumors without damaging healthy cells. Maybe that will be you,Jaren,because you are more than ready,” Obama said.
The 10-year-old charter school graduated 17 students in its first class,and has graduated a total of 673 students,98 percent of whom have gone on to college.
Class salutatorian Rosmer Portillo,who is headed to the Art Institute of Washington,was inspired by the school to pursue a career in graphic design. “If I had one dream it was to make my parents proud,” he said.
He was assured he had as someone in the audience shouted,”We're proud of you!”
As the graduates,who have been awarded more than $3 million in scholarships,head off to 73 colleges,including Benedict College,Hampton University,the University of Virginia and Penn State University,Obama reminded them,”If you struggle a little bit,so what? It doesn't mean that you don't belong there. It just means you have to work harder.”