Obama at Worcester Tech: ‘You’re Already Leading’

Obama with Worcester Tech class officers who presented him with a jacket President Obama with Worcester Tech class officers who presented him with a jacket.

President Barack Obama delivered a humorous, uplifting commencement address to the 301 graduating seniors of Worcester Technical High School on Wednesday, June 11, congratulating them for proving that much is possible with hard work, a good education and a supportive community.

“You’re already blazing a trail. You’re already leading. You’re already giving back,” the president said to cheers from the crowd of 5,000 parents and well-wishers. The enthusiasm rippled through the audience as Obama mentioned a list of student-led projects at the school that are benefiting the community.

Worcester Tech came to the president’s attention because of significant improvements in student success over the past seven years, the White House said. This was the president’s only high school commencement visit this year.

The school was named a Blue Ribbon School in 2013, and the principal, Dr. Sheila Harrity, was named National Principal of the Year this year. Four-year graduation rates have risen to 95 percent, and the president noted that proficiency rates on student assessments have doubled or more in math, science and English.

After his speech, the president remained on stage, shaking hands with the graduates as they received their diplomas.

Desilets, Obama, Sarpong Naomi Desilets, class valedictorian, President Obama, Reginald Sarpong, class president.

Obama recounted his own story of growing up to illustrate his main points. He told the students and assembled well-wishers at the DCU Center to remember that someone had invested in their success, that they should give back to the community, and that they should always believe in their ability to succeed.

The president joked that when he graduated from high school, he was more concerned about graduation parties than about the commencement speaker’s remarks.

He quipped that the graduates would not recall his speech, but would remember the event “because there are so many Secret Service members at your graduation.”

He expressed disappointment that Senate Republicans have blocked a bill introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren aimed at letting people refinance student loans at lower rates. When the crowd began to boo the Republicans’ move, the president responded, “Don’t boo. Vote.”

Obama flew into Worcester on Air Force One. Before taking the stage, he met with political, education and civic leaders, including MTA President Paul Toner. U.S. Representative James McGovern, Governor Deval Patrick and Secretary of Education Matthew Malone attended the graduation ceremony.

“The fact that this is the only high school graduation President Obama will be speaking at this year really magnifies the significance of the accomplishments of the students and teachers at Worcester Tech,” Toner said.

Some of the biggest cheers of the day were for the teachers and school staff as they marched into the arena just before the students.

“As a teacher from Worcester Tech, I’m so proud for my colleagues and for the whole city,” said Educational Association of Worcester President Len Zalauskas, who taught history and government at the school. “My colleagues are exuberant, as they should be. These are teachers who work very hard.”