Michelle Obama is rested, ready and screwing up a bunch of ordinary people’s lives again.
Fresh off a luxurious vacation to China (which was fresh off a long vacation at Oprah’s Maui home), the first lady has threatened hassle and hardship upon hundreds of students and their families in Topeka, Kan. with a last-minute announcement of her intention to speak at a combined graduation ceremony for the city’s five public high schools.
School district officials deserve just as much blame for the developing fiasco—possibly more. They invited Obama to speak at the May 17 graduation back in December, reports The Topeka Capital-Journal.
The reason for the invitation is the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that declared separate-but-equal public education unconstitutional.
“It really is a historical day,” Topeka school superintendent Julie Ford said when she announced the exciting news on Thursday. “We couldn’t be more happy.”
Turns out, though, a large number of students and their families were far happier before the announcement, which will necessitate the combined graduation and move it to the Kansas Expocentre, a 10,000-seat multi-purpose arena.
The new graduation venue will severely limit the number of family members and friends who can attend the mass commencement. (It should also make for a staggeringly longer ceremony.)
Normally, graduating seniors across Topeka’s five high schools can invite anyone they want to their big days. It’s not a bidg deal. However, this year promises to be much different.
Worried parents who called the district said they learned each student would receive a mere four tickets each.
Topeka High senior Taylor Gifford told the Capital-Journal she was “absolutely thrilled” when she first learned Obama would speak. “I mean, it’s the first lady,” she said.
Excitement soon turned to despair, though, when Gifford realized the price of the speech would be a drastic reduction in the number of guests she could bring.
“I’m the oldest of eight,” the senior lamented, adding that she hoped to see family friends at the event in addition to her nuclear family members.
“These are people that have watched me grow up and become the person I am,” Gifford said.
Topeka mother Tina Hernandez expressed similar disappointment.
“This is not fair,” the hardworking single mom told the Journal. “My son is more important than Michelle Obama.”
Hernandez said she has already sunk hundreds of dollars into announcements which will be wrong.
“You look forward to this day,” the irate mom said. “You can bring the president and it doesn’t matter. This is my son’s day.”
Topeka school board president Janel Johnson has promised to work really hard to resolve the problems the district and the first lady have caused.
“We are trying to be as considerate as possible,” Johnson told the Journal.
One idea is to set up a secondary location where friends and family members who don’t make the limited-ticket cut can watch the ceremony by way of a live stream—surely what every proud grandmother and big brother wants.
Beside one of its articles, the Capital-Journal is running a poll about the kerfuffle. So far, the pro-Obama side is losing badly. Almost 68 percent of poll respondents say “the combined ceremony places hardships on the families of the graduates, and alternate plans should be developed.” About 32 percent of respondents support the first lady’s visit regardless of the hardships it will cause.
A Change.org petition asking the Topeka school district to return to graduation normalcy has already reached at least 1,500 signatures.
The Topeka fracas certainly won’t be the first time she has created adversity for students. In March 2013, for example, hundreds of public elementary school kids in Chicago endured four-long lines and the better part of an entire day without food when they participated in a massive event kicking off her Let’s Move! Active Schools campaign. (RELATED: Let’s starve! Kids forced to go hungry for hours during Michelle Obama media event)