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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

President Obama, Department of Education Announce Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge

WASHINGTON – The White House and the Department of Education announced today the first annual Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge, inviting public schools across the country to compete to have President Obama speak at their graduation this spring.

“Public schools that encourage systemic reform and embrace effective approaches to teaching and learning help prepare America’s students to graduate ready for college and a career, and enable them to out-compete any worker, anywhere in the world,” said President Obama in a video released today.  “This is your opportunity to show me why your school exemplifies the best that our education system has to offer.”

“The Race to the Top Commencement Challenge is an amazing opportunity for our nation’s high schools to share their accomplishments and aspirations,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  “I look forward to hearing about the many dedicated principals, teachers and parents who work tremendously hard to ensure and promote academic excellence, and I look forward to hearing about the many students across this country who are putting their education first and taking responsibility for their future.”

At the beginning of the school year, the President encouraged students across the country to take responsibility for their education, study hard and graduate from high school.  The Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge encourages schools to show how they are making great strides on personal responsibility, academic excellence and college readiness.

Background Information on the Commencement Challenge:

Applications should be completed by students and must be submitted by a high school’s principal to no later than Monday, March 15th at 11:59 pm EST.  Each school may submit only one application and high schools must be public to apply.   Following the application deadline, six finalists will be selected by the White House and Department of Education.  These schools will then be featured on the White House website and the public will have an opportunity to vote for the three schools they think best meet the President’s goal.  The President will select a national winner from these three finalists and visit the winning high school to deliver the commencement address to the class of 2010. 

The application’s four essay questions focus on demonstrating how the school is helping prepare students to meet the President’s 2020 goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  Applications will be judged based on the school’s performance and dedication to providing students an excellent education that will prepare them to graduate ready for college and career choices. Each question must be answered in full to qualify and data that substantiates each answer is strongly encouraged. 
In addition to the required essay responses, applicants are invited to submit the following optional supplemental materials:

  • A video – no more than 2 minutes in length – showing the school’s culture and character and highlighting how it is a model of educational success for other high schools around the country. 
  • Supplemental data on key indicators such as attendance, student achievement, graduation rates and where available, college enrollment rates.  This data may be presented in the form of tables, graphs or spreadsheets and should be used to help the school make the most compelling arguments possible.

Text of President Obama’s Video

In a few short months, high school students across the country will put on their caps and gowns, pick up their diplomas, and prepare to start an exciting new chapter in their lives.

Graduation is an important moment for anyone. But a high school diploma is also important to our success as a nation – and it’s only the beginning.  That’s why I’ve set a goal that, by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. We’ve started by investing billions of dollars in strengthening our nation’s schools – setting higher standards, supporting teachers and principals, and boosting the number of students who graduate high school ready for college or a career.

But the government can’t meet this goal alone – we need your help. And that’s why today I’m excited to announce the first annual “Race to the Top” High School Commencement Challenge. Just go to and fill out an application by March 15th telling us why your school is special and why it should be a model for other schools around the country working to boost attendance and increase the number of graduates prepared for college or a career. This spring, I’ll visit the winning school to speak at commencement. 

Good luck – and thank you for doing your part to help make our students the best and brightest in the world.