President Obama to speak at BTW's graduation in Memphis - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

President Obama to speak at BTW's graduation in Memphis

Posted: Updated:
  • News on WMCTV.comNewsMore>>

  • 2 escape early morning house fire

    2 escape early morning house fire

    Monday, April 21 2014 10:29 AM EDT2014-04-21 14:29:04 GMT
    (WMC-TV) – A Memphis homeowner and his roommate woke up to fire early Monday morning at a home on Ingles Avenue near Kansas Street. The fire department received multiple calls about fire around 2:30 a.m. WMCMore >>
    A Memphis homeowner and his roommate woke up to fire early Monday morning at a home on Ingles Avenue near Kansas Street.More >>
  • Police cancel City Watch for 13-year-old

    Police cancel City Watch for 13-year-old

    Monday, April 21 2014 10:17 AM EDT2014-04-21 14:17:47 GMT
    The Memphis Police Department has issued a City Watch for 13-year-old Tara Duncan.More >>
    The Memphis Police Department has canceled a City Watch for 13-year-old Tara Duncan. MPD issued the cancellation at 9 a.m. on Monday after she was located.More >>
  • Bang for Your Buck: Spend your tax refund wisely

    Bang for Your Buck: Spend your tax refund wisely

    Monday, April 21 2014 10:02 AM EDT2014-04-21 14:02:59 GMT
    (WMC-TV) – Tax season has come and gone for most of us, which means if you are owed a refund, you either have it by now or are expecting it soon. In this segment of Bang for Your Buck WMC Action NewsMore >>
    Tax season has come and gone for most of us, which means if you are owed a refund, you either have it by now or are expecting it soon.More >>
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - An academic turnaround at an urban high school with a rich tradition of educating African-Americans has earned graduating seniors a commencement address from President Barack Obama.

Booker T. Washington High School found out it was the winner of a national competition in a phone call Tuesday from Vice President Joe Biden.

The school's accomplishment was announced as the city of Memphis is enduring the second-worst flood of its history. The flooding didn't threaten the school building.

"I'm very excited," said Kenneth Robeson, a member of the class of 2011. "In fact, when I first heard it, I almost cried but I held it together."

Principal Alisha Kiner said she jumped up and down so much that she came out of her shoes when she heard the news.  Kriner said her school earned the victory through hard work, passion, and determination.

"The students are the ones who did the work, and they should be commended," she said.

A professionally produced video outlined the hurdles the school's 500 students have overcome to win the competition.

The school is in a gritty south Memphis neighborhood where the median annual income is less than $11,000 and the crime rate is the 14th highest in the nation. Last year 20 percent of the students lost their homes when their public housing project was closed and demolished.

Nevertheless, the school improved its graduation rate from 55 percent in 2007 to more than 80 percent in 2010. That improvement was cited as key to winning the administration's Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge, which honors schools for preparing students for college and careers.

"Looking at everybody and what we've been throughout the year, and how people have been telling us that the president's not coming, and now that he is, it's just showing that we can accomplish anything we put our minds to," senior student Vashti Taylor said.

The White House said Obama's visit was scheduled for Monday, and aditional details would be forthcoming.

Booker T. Washington High opened in 1873 as the first public high school for blacks in Memphis. Its alumni include Benjamin Hooks, who was executive director of the NAACP, and Willie Herenton, the city's first black mayor.

The other finalists in the competition were High Tech High International in San Diego and Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Wash.

Copyright 2011 WMC-TV. All rights reserved. The AP contributed to this story.

Powered by WorldNow