TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) – Michelle Obama is rearranging plans for a speech before graduating high school seniors in Topeka, Kan., in the face of protests that her appearance at a combined graduation ceremony for five schools would limit seating for families and friends.
She had accepted the district’s invitation to speak May 17 at the combined ceremony to mark that day’s 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing school segregation. The case originated in Topeka.
Under a new plan worked out by the district, the first lady will speak on May 16 at a “senior recognition day” ceremony at the same 8,000-seat arena where the combined ceremony was to be held. The combined ceremony is being scrapped and the five schools will hold separate graduation exercises instead.
Since Mrs. Obama will no longer speak at a graduation, seating would not need to be limited due to concerns over her security.
The first lady’s communications director, Maria Cristina Gonzalez Noguera, said Mrs. Obama wants everyone to have the opportunity to attend a graduation ceremony.
“Once we learned about the concerns of some students, we were eager to find a solution that enabled all of the students and their families to celebrate the special day,” the spokeswoman said Thursday.
Eighteen-year-old Taylor Gifford had launched an online petition urging the school district to reconsider its plans. Gifford and the more than 1,200 people who had signed it expressed concern that Mrs. Obama’s visit would limit guest seating.
The first lady’s office announced the compromise while President Barack Obama was traveling in Asia.