Booker T. Washington High basks in national spotlight - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Booker T. Washington High basks in national spotlight

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(WMC-TV) - Now that President Barack Obama is set to speak at Booker T. Washington High School's graduation next week, students and faculty are feeling the burn of the national spotlight. But they don't seem to mind.

Tuesday, the White House announced BTW High as the winner of the 2011 Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge.  President Obama will travel to Memphis on May 16th to deliver the school's commencement address.

The announcement triggered a national flood of support for the school.

"My phone, BlackBerry, completely shut down four times yesterday from the number of calls, emails and Facebook messages that I received," BTW principal Alisha Kiner said.

According to Kiner, BTW has already received numerous requests from the national media to talk about their latest achievement.

"It's been really awesome," she said. "I think it's more than I expected.

After months of waiting...and hours of hard work Kenneth Roberson, a graduating senior, says he proud to have President Obama to speak at his graduation.

"I'm glad I have people to support me, and President Obama supporting a young man like myself," Roberson said. "He has worked hard, and I'm glad that people recognize him for what he's done and I'm getting recognized for what I've done."

And like many other BTW graduates, Roberson is looking forward to the big day.

"I was already popular," he said. "Just being a local celebrity now is even better."


Meanwhile Wednesday, BTW alumnus and former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton said he was proud of what his alma mater achieved.

"I think we had a great story," he said. "If you looked at the video, it really depicts a southern high school in an urban community that, despite its impoverished community and constituency, it achieves."

Herenton said the school should consider Obama's visit an honor and an achievement - not a political statement.

"Some people want to put a political spin to it that the president is running for reelection, but I don't think that has a great deal to do with it," Herenton said. "I think his staff advised him this was a wonderful opportunity to honor an outstanding high school."

Former graduates of BTW like Brenda Joysmith, a noted Memphis artists, said they were proud of the school's many accomplishments and the opportunity to shine in the national spotlight.

"They're part of the broader experience and that is the city, the state, the county, the world," she said. "Things like the flood let us know we're all connected and it's really nice that in this watershed event, the president will be part of this spring commencement."

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