Memphis in May: Booker T. Washington High School Wins Commencement Challenge

This morning, Sam Champion, chief meteorologist for Good Morning America, stood knee-deep in the waters of the Mississippi River, which is about to crest, and possibly flood even more streets and homes in the Bluff City, even as I type this. All eyes are on us, as we try to make sense of this natural disaster and support our basketball team, the Memphis Grizzlies, as they continue to press ahead in the NBA playoffs. This city is a beautiful mess right now, but we love it!

I talk about a lot of things, but now’s the time to shed a light on Memphis. Sure, sometimes it seems as if we have a curse on us, being the place of death for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yes, even some natives are still shocked that Three-Six Mafia won an Oscar for “Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” and so what if we are the stars of First 48? Still, with all that, we love our city. Until recently, there hadn’t been enough positive energy and publicity generating here. My how things have changed so quickly.

Today begins the “Memphis in May” series, taken from our annual festival that includes the world-renowned Barbeque Cooking Contest and Beale Street Music Festival. During the month, I will feature different Memphians, business and events simply because we deserve it.

First up…Booker T. Washington High School 

It’s not my alma mater, but Booker T. Washington is Memphis’ first public school for African-Americans. Today, the White House announced that they were selected by President Obama as winner of the Commencement Challenge. They beat out six finalists nationwide.

From the official White House press release:

“I’m so proud of the schools that participated in this year’s commencement challenge and I want to thank all of them for their hard work and dedication,” said President Obama.  “Booker T. Washington High School proves what can be accomplished when students, teachers, parents and administrators come together to support achievement in the classroom and I’m looking forward to delivering the commencement address at this extraordinary school soon.”

Booker T. Washington High School’s graduation rate went from 55% in 2007 to 81.6% in 2010.  The school has taken steps such as establishing separate freshmen academies for boys and girls to help students adjust to the school culture and creating an atmosphere where teachers take personal interest in seeing students take pride in their schoolwork.  Students can now take AP classes, learn about engineering through robotics competitions, and earn college credits.

Watch the video the sealed the deal:

Congratulations to the students, faculty and staff at BTW!

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