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WORCESTER — Sheila M. Harrity kept the news to herself for more than a week.
The Worcester Technical High School principal was attending to a loved one at a Boston hospital when the White House contacted her about President Barack Obama potentially delivering the school’s commencement address.
“”I’m already an emotional mess cause my mom’s having surgery,” Ms. Harrity said this morning, minutes after she announced that Mr. Obama would speak to the Class of 2014 at 4 p.m. June 11 at the DCU Center.
On a break from the hospital March 10, she was walking along Huntington Avenue when she scanned her smartphone and noticed an email from the White House. She called the number and a female staffer initiated a discussion.
“The woman said the White House is abuzz about Worcester Tech,” Ms. Harrity said. Then she made an offer Ms. Harrity said she never expected.
“The White House wants to know if it’s all right if the president is the commencement speaker,” Ms. Harrity said.
Those words began an exchange of schedules. The White House asked for the graduation date, which was June 2, but which Ms. Harrity could not immediately recall.
She told the staffer that she would look it up on her calender.
“I’m crying hysterically,” Ms Harrity said. She sat down on a bench. “I’m crying so much I can’t even see the screen.”
The White House said Mr. Obama was unavailable June 2, and after some-back-and-forth with the DCU Center, a June 11 date was finalized.
Once the deal was made, the White House insisted on confidentiality.
Ms. Harrity did not even tell her brothers the news when she returned to her mother’s hospital room. That night, she woke up in the middle of the night and wondered if the email was a hoax.
But everything turned out to be true and Ms. Harrity pulled off the surprise announcement today at a school assembly filled with unsuspecting students, staffers and longtime advocates, including Edwin B. Coghlin Jr., who chairs the school’s advisory boards. School Committee members said they were also unaware of the honor.
Members of the senior class were called to the auditorium for what Ms. Harrity had promised would be a “pleasant surprise” about graduation. The mood was festive as “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors blared as the 311-member senior class filed into the auditorium.
“I hope I’m not going to make you cry,” Ms. Harrity said as slides with the class’ highlights began to fill the giant screen. Ms. Harrity coordinated the big announcement to the end of the presentation, when a photograph of Mr. Obama appeared on the screen.
She did make some of them cry. There were tears — and cheers — as the news sunk in that the President of the United States was coming to see them.
Once Ms. Harrity revealed the news, the students jumped to their feet, screaming with joy and exchanging high-fives — and texting parents and friends.
“I am so excited,” said senior Melinda Blanchard. She said the vocational school has given her and other students so many opportunities.
“We’ve come a long way since we were freshmen. Now we’re international news.”
The DCU address will be the only high school commencement Mr. Obama makes this year, according to Ms. Harrity.
“Worcester Tech has made outstanding headway in boosting its graduation rate, implementing cutting-edge vocational programs, and ensuring that all of its students have the opportunity to succeed,” Keith Maley, a White House spokesman said in an e-mail.
Worcester Tech’s academic credentials have improved dramatically since Ms. Harrity arrived in 2006. That was the year the school moved into a new $90 million building designed to foster learning communities and link academics with trades.
MCAS scores have risen and the school’s graduation rate, 96.4 percent, is the best in the district. Ms. Harrity was honored in September as National High School Principal of the Year.
Last week, Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, made a visit.
Ms. Harrity said officials are already working with the Secret Service to make preparations for security. She said families are already accustomed to a limited number of graduation tickets.
“I hope I can get my mom a ticket,” Ms. Harrity said.
The last sitting president to visit Worcester was Bill Clinton, who spoke at the December 1999 memorial ceremony following the deaths of six firefighters in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire.
This story is awesome. People love to shit on Worcester, but guess what? Presidents choose to come here all the time, which makes us better, and more relevant than you. Meeting Presidents is just a regular part of growing up in the Woo. When I was 16 I met President Clinton at the Worcester Airport as part of a school field trip. When I was 10 I met Barbara Bush when she came to Mechanics Hall. When I was 17 Clinton came back to Worcester. Just part of growing up in New England’s second largest city. And now I get to meet the President of the U-Nited States. Again.
I have three months to plan my introduction to President Obama. Having the Commander in Chief come to the Woo and not meet TurtleBoy is just not something that can happen. At the very least I wanna get yelled at by Secret Service.
For the record, I think Worcester Tech is a great school, and I think Sheila Harrity is the type of person every teacher in America wants to work for. Ya know why it’s such a great school? Because it’s selective. I’ve heard cranky malcontents complain that it’s basically a charter school that hand picks it’s students. It does. That’s why it’s great. It’s a nice school, and should be reserved for nice kids who actually wanna do something besides harass teachers and run around the school yelling nonsensical phrases at the top of their lungs. That’s what will keep it nice.
Now I understand the frustration of teachers who work at other Worcester Public Schools. They get shit on all the time, and it’s not right. Comparing this school to any of the other public schools is apples and oranges. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s a really, really good thing.
For the record, I think Obama’s a complete fraud when it comes to education. He wants schools like this to be the norm, while at the same time insisting on “educating all students.” As if pubic schools aren’t trying that already. He basically ignores the reality that millions of kids just don’t wanna learn, and their parents could give a shit less. He acts under the assumption that these kids want to be taught, but that teachers and schools aren’t doing their part. He knows this because of his background as a prep school and Ivy League student. It’s basically the same thing right?
Kids that are disruptive and don’t wanna do anything should be suspended or expelled. But unfortunately Obama has said time and time again that we need to be suspending kids less so that they can stay off the streets and in the classroom. So basically what he’s doing is forcing schools to lower their suspension rates, teach to the state test, adopt “Common Core,” and fire teachers and principals in order to keep getting his “Race to the Top” cash. He’s done it time and time again. How any teacher in their right mind could vote for someone who genuinely makes your life harder, and your job less secure, is beyond me.
But, none of that is the point. He’s the freaking President of United States. He’s not a person, he’s a figure head. He’s like a mythological creature. It doesn’t matter who the President is, when he wants to come to your school, you make it happen.
So we can all agree that no matter what your politics are, this is a really, really cool thing right? Wait, hold on. You’re telling me that nut job malcontents are complaining about it all over the place??? Let’s see what these obviously very enlightened individuals have to say:
“Obama has nothing better to do except golf and give speeches at high schools? This is what makes him the worst president this country has EVER had!”
Yup, that’s literally all the President does. You see all that gray hair on his head? You try giving high school commencement speeches while balancing a daily golf game and see what your hair looks like.
“The school has an awful graduate and Mcas rate BVT has a 98 % grad and 84% as of 2012 MCAS..we know why he’s going and it’s not what he is trying to pass off saying its the most successful Tech school in the country..the minority here is Caucasian…the school population is made up of color.. where BVT cant compete in that arena .. he should be the speaker at the most deserving school BVT…”
Yea Obama – what gives? No love for Blackstone Valley Tech? Do you even follow the Vocational standings from your throne in Washington? These things are published in the USA Today and updated hourly. BVT is clearly the number one Voke school round these parts. Their strength of schedule and RPI are like a million times higher than Worcester Tech too.
I assume as part of his speech he is going to man-up and admit that thanks to his policies they will never be able to find actual jobs.
Yup, that’s EXACTLY what he’s going to do. It’s part of his Obama Apology Tour. He’s going around trying to make amends with angry internet trolls that he’s run afoul of.
“Stand up and turn your back on this fraud.”
Yea, that’ll show him!!! Your isolated, one-man gesture in a crowd full of people who are applauding him will definitely catch his attention. He’ll be up on stage unable to concentrate, all the while thinking to himself, “I wonder why that guy turned his back on me? What did I ever do to that guy?”
Obama is still campaigning on our dime. I guess there isn’t any pressing issues he should be addressing like our sputtering economy or the trillions he himself added to the national debt.
Right. He has to choose between fixing the economy, and giving this speech. He simply cannot do both. Ya see, if you give the President enough hours, he can fix the economy, just like he could fix a leaky sink. It’s the exact same thing. But instead of spending his precious time fixing everything, he’s off campaigning for his re-election in 2016. The constitution clearly needs to be amended to enact presidential term limits.
“Even his fellow Dems are distancing themselves from what is surely the worse president in history.”
Yea he’s the WORSE I’ve ever seen. Even worst than Warren G. Harding? ESPECIALLY worst than Warren G. Harding. Sure Franklin Pierce signed the Fugitive Slave Act. Sure Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson led us into giant unpopular wars we had no business fighting in. But at least those guys aren’t socialist Muslim Nazis. Somewhere, Jimmy Carter is reading this troll’s comment and smiling.
“So young and naïve, these poor kids do not even understand the debt that this president has placed on them!”
Yea, and it was all Obama. When he became President everyone owed US money. We were like the international loan shark. Then Obama came in with all his welfare and put us trillions in debt. Thanks Obama!!
“Not complaining about Prez. Questioning the validity of the purpose.”
Yea, what’s the purpose of this? Why is the President of the United States speaking at a public high school in the United States? Doesn’t he have a bracket to fill out or something?
“What a marvelous priviledge- NOT! I would rather have a root canal than listen to OB for any length of time. SNOOZE,SNOOZE.”
At first I thought this guy was serious. Then he just threw that “NOT” in there. Totally caught me by surprise. I would expect nothing less from someone whose idea of a good time is an all day procedure at the dentist’s office.
“As a Worcester taxpayer, I would INSIST that the graduation ceremony for this high school be held ON Skyline Drive. The HUGE IMPACT to downtown Worcester and the UNNECESSARY EXPENSE of renting (even part of) the DCU Center concern me.”
These nutjobs are fantastic. Truly an endless supply of predictable entertainment. I love when some local boob using the alias “Grafton Hill Dad” reminds all of us about his enormous contribution to the tax base. If the government is gong to spend a single dime of it’s tax revenue, they better consult with him first. He doesn’t like the UNNECESSARY EXPENSES!!! Sure, he could celebrate that the most powerful person in the free world is choosing to come to our lovely city, but then he’d just be ignoring the fact that he is singlehandedly financing this entire operation.
Grafton Hill Dad INSISTS that this graduation be held at the high school, which sits less than 1,000 people, as opposed to the DCU Center, which ten times that amount. Did you hear that Mayor Petty? He INSISTS!!! So you better just go ahead and cancel it, or this guy’s gonna write more angry comments on the internet. Never mind the fact that nearly every school in Worcester, and it’s immediate vicinity already has their commencement at this school. None of that should get in the way of a good rant.
He does make a good point about the huge impact this will have on downtown though. I mean, where will all the people going to the Midtown Mall park with all this extra traffic? Did anyone think of that? Or how about Irish Times and ShBooms? What about their business? The President can’t just hog everyone like that.
If he does go downtown though, I know one place where he just HAS to go:
Feel free to share your thoughts to keep the conversation going.
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Dunno, TB. You have found a lot of the anger in town, considering he squeaked by with 69% of the vote in Worcester in 2012. http://www.worcesterma.gov/election-results/2010-Present/20121106.pdf
To hell with the fanfare, I wish I could have wasted someone’s tax dollars when they let me speak at graduation. I wonder who Grafton Hill Dad would prefer to personally finance?