Commencements make President Obama cry. A look at his addresses to high school graduates.

High school graduation speakers are typically forgettable. Remember yours?


Odessa High School graduates pose for a group portrait prior to the start of the commencement ceremony Saturday June 7, 2014 at Ratliff Stadium in Odessa, Texas. (AP Photo/Odessa American, Edyta Blaszczyk)

That won't be the case for graduates of Worcester Technical High School in Worcester, Mass. President Obama will give the commencement speech Wednesday afternoon.

Presidents often address graduating classes at colleges or universities. This year, Obama gave a foreign-policy address that doubled as a commencement speech at West Point. On Saturday he will address the graduating class at the University of California-Irvine.

But a high school?  It turns out that Obama has doled out advice and wisdom to some of America's graduating high school students before. Two of the schools won a White House-sponsored contest where the prize was having Obama address its graduates. Here's a look at the small group of people who will probably remember their high school graduation speaker.

Kalamazoo Central High School, Kalamazoo, Mich. 

The class of 2010 won the White House's first "Commencement Challenge," a competition where high schools around the country submitted videos, essay questions and performance data. The contest was part of Race to the Top, which provides grants to states that satisfy certain criteria laid out by the Department of Education.

"I hate to pile on with advice, but while I’m here what the heck," Obama said. "First understand that your success in life won’t be determined just by what’s given to you or what happens to you but by what you do with all that’s given to you. What you do with all that happens to you. How hard you try. How far you push yourself. How high you’re willing to reach. True excellence only comes with perseverance. This wasn’t something I really understood when I was back your age."

Not everyone was held rapt by Obama's words; a student behind him fell asleep during the speech.

Booker T. Washington High School, Memphis 

Booker T. Washington High School won the second "Commencement Challenge," so Obama spoke at its 2011 graduation. The school's graduation rate jumped from 55 percent in 2007 to 81.6 in 2010, according to the White House.

Obama said that while he has a lot of perks as president ,"I have a very nice plane. I have a theme song" but he really enjoys sharing important days with graduates and young people.

"Every commencement is a day of celebration. I was just telling somebody backstage I just love commencements. I get all choked up at commencements. I can tell you already right now. I will cry at my children's commencements. I cry at other people’s commencements. But this one is especially hopeful," Obama said.

Joplin High School, Joplin, Mo

One year after a tornado ripped through Joplin, killing 161 people and injuring more than 1,000, Obama addressed the class of 2012. The tornado struck just hours after the 2011 high school graduation.

"As others have mentioned you’ve had to grow up quickly over the past year. You’ve learned at a younger age than most of us that we can’t always predict what life has in store, no matter how we might try to avoid it, life surely can bring some heartache and life involves struggles. And at some point life will bring loss," Obama said. "But here in Joplin we’ve also learned that we have the power to grow from these experiences. We can define our lives not by what happens to us but by how we respond.”

Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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