President Obama was in town last night. Yes, he came to little old Kalamazoo Michigan to give the commencement speech for the Kalamazoo Central class of 2010. To make a very long short, this high school was chosen for the President’s commencement speech from 1000 entries across the U.S. because of its dedication to excellence in education. The effort to improve our schools has been a community-wide effort, that gained significant momentum with the announcement in 2005 of the Kalamazoo Promise.
It was an event that made our city, home of the Kalamazoo Promise, proud. The graduating seniors won’t forget making history by being the only high school class ever who had a sitting president speak at their commencement.
While you read the rest of this post, please put your politics aside. Consider the character of the man, the leader, who gave the speech. Barack Obama’s character as a leader was evident throughout the ceremony. He was an example to us all as we think about what it means to be a leader, but more importantly to a group of young people who had the chance to observe character first hand.
What character looked like last night
His speech was about, and for, the kids. It was directed at them and for them. It was in many ways a typical commencement address, with attention to the graduate’s future, inspiring them to reach high and to give back.
The man who gave the speech is the President of the United States, who could have used the stage to talk about anything, but he didn’t. It was a night for the kids, and he made sure it was for them. That’s character.
He thanked the salutatorian and the valedictorian, using their names. He referenced something specific and personal that he had learned about each of them. That’s character.
He was the last in line to shake the hand of all 280 graduates, standing behind the principal and the superintendent of schools. He spoke to each graduate (I don’t know what he said). He could have chosen to sit out the tedious task of standing up and shaking each graduate’s hand. He did not. That’s character. (p.s. many of the kids wanted to hug him. He obliged in what I’m sure was not protocol for a President).
He let the kids have their day. Aside from his speech he was on the sidelines, and not the center of attention. He could have chosen otherwise. That’s character.
What are you doing to demonstrate character today?