Sometimes, even the most innocuous gestures from the President and/or First Lady end up being controversial for incomprehensible reasons. We are at that point with the ‘controversy’ over First Lady Michelle Obama’s graduation commencement speech to Topeka, KS high schools, which is scheduled next month. Mrs. Obama was asked by the school board to address the district’s graduating seniors. The speech is to take place on the 60th anniversary of the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which originated in Topeka.The White House announced the speech (along with other commencement speeches this spring) on Wednesday.
The next day, a graduating senior, Taylor Gifford, started a petition requesting that the graduation ceremony and commencement speech be altered in some way. The reasoning in the petition is that five high schools are being combined into one graduation ceremony. The ceremony will be held at the 10,000-seat Kansas Expocentre. With 800 seniors graduating, the school board stated that they may have to limit the number of tickets that each graduating senior receives for family and friends. Gifford’s petition asked that the ceremonies be split up by school and that the First Lady’s speech either be given live to all separate ceremonies, or live at one and recorded and replayed at the others.
Over the weekend, the petition became the latest cause celebre for conservatives to rally around. Fox News and Glenn Beck’s right-wing rag The Blaze, among others, jumped all over the story and hyped it as the First Lady placing herself above these kids, trying to make everything about HER. They might as well have used the word ‘uppity’, considering the direction they were going with the coverage. The racial animus they were pushing with the coverage over the weekend was easy to detect.
One thing that is being promoted in the right-wing media’s stories about this petition is the number of people who have signed it. As of Monday afternoon, more than 2,100 people have signed the petition. However, while the early signers of the petition were mostly residents of the school district (either students, parents or family members), the people who have signed it in the past couple of days are from all around the country, obviously having seen coverage of the ‘controversy’ and wanting to have a say in it.
While Gifford and other residents of Topeka have made sure to highlight that their issues with the commencement speech are purely based on logistics and the limited number of tickets being made available for family, and has nothing to do with politics, the sentiment from recent signers of the petition reveals something quite a bit different.
Below are some of the recent comments left on the petition:
From a supporter in California:
Right on Taylor! Stop the hate speech, enough! We don’t need these constant race hustlers invading the School.
Another petition signer in Washington:
Because in virtually ALL cases, the Obamas have shown they do thing ONLY for political purposes. They have absolutely no concern for the kids, only for politics.
The one below is from a woman in Missouri:
I don’t think Michelle Has the appropriate beliefs or behaviors I would want for her to speak to any age group. She is a poor example of America.
Here is a comment from North Carolina:
She is NOT a person who should convey her ideas to others. She is not even proud of being an American!!!!
And we had a real classy gentleman from Iowa who left this gem:
any vote against this slut is ok by me
The district’s spokesman, Ron Harbaugh, has stated that the number of tickets that will definitely be available to each graduating senior will be six, and that this could change upwards prior to the event, after they’ve been able to identify all of the number of seats that will be available. Peter Alexander at NBC discussed this with Tamron Hall on Monday. Below is video of the segment:
This is beyond sad, to be honest. Obviously, having the First Lady of the country speak at a high school graduation is going to create something of an inconvenience for people and cause some logistical headaches. That is a given. However, this is a great honor, regardless of your political feelings. There are high schools and colleges across this nation that would gladly switch places with the Topeka school district.
But, let’s face it. This is just another excuse the right is giving itself to complain about Michelle Obama. In their eyes, she is making this event all about herself. She is arrogantly trouncing on these kids’ special day, not caring one iota about their feelings. She just wants the spotlight wherever she can get it. How dare she come into somewhere where she is clearly not welcome? Doesn’t she know her place?
Instead of this being a feel-good story about high-school seniors being given a commencement speaker and a graduation ceremony that they will remember for the rest of their lives, it has turned into another opportunity for right-wing white America to show its ugly underbelly.