Dear President Obama,
The school known today for its 99 percent college attendance rate and 42 National Merit Semifinalists in the class of 2012 is gaining notoriety for an achievement unlike any in its past.
DuPont Manual High School, the magnet school ranked 62nd in the U.S. by Newsweek, has earned national attention with “The President Project.” The initiative created by a group of ambitious senior students is an effort to bring you, President Obama, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – a Manual alumnus – to the school’s 2012 graduation ceremony.
“I guess, technically, President Obama came up with the idea because he did the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge and we had been planning to apply to that,” said Michael Perry, class president of Manual and chief campaign organizer of “The President Project.”
The idea to invite the President to deliver the commencement address was conceived a few years ago by Perry and Vice President of the student body, Parker Bowling. But since this fall, Perry, Bowling and several upperclassmen have taken a tremendous step toward their goal, creating a committee to promote the project through just about every medium possible.
“We wanted to try to hit all of the ways that we could communicate, so we did a letter campaign to the White House and we wanted to do an official invitation along with our letter,” Perry said.
In October, the committee began producing a brief two-and-a-half minute video invitation called “We Are Manual,” which they launched on YouTube in mid-December and posted to their Facebook page and website, www.thepresidentproject.com. The video has since accumulated more than 20,000 hits and has been aired on Fox 41, WHAS11 and WLKY.
“We Are Manual” has built plenty of momentum for the endeavor, but the greatest factor promulgating the initiative has been endorsements from members of the public.
“The students are of course the base of the support,” said Bowling, who is public relations manager for the project. “We met the mayor, the superintendent, and they’re the two people who support us the most. We met (Congressman) John Yarmuth. We started meeting with the governor. We started meeting with Matthew Barzun, who’s Obama’s chief fundraiser.”
The committee has also attempted to reach out to such famous Kentucky natives as George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Manual almuna Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls.
In addition, the group was granted the opportunity to meet Mrs. Obama herself during her recent visit to the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage for a campaign fundraiser.
“We’re trying to think outside the box,” Bowling said. “Matthew Barzun said you can never stop. (The White House) knows about (the project), but they can forget about it in five minutes. Keep pushing, keep calling. Keep reminding people to do something.”
Even those who are anti-Obama have stepped forward to bolster the cause. “One of the guys who’s been one of the most active has been the head of the Teen Republicans at our school,” Perry said. “He disagrees with his politics, but he admires the man.”
The leader of the Young Democrats at Manual took initiative, as well, by organizing a voter registration drive that successfully registered about half of the senior class to vote. “Education shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue; It should be an American issue,” Bowling said of the bipartisan involvement in the campaign. “I think that’s something everyone can buy into regardless of party affiliation.”
The public has certainly bought into “The President Project,” as witnessed by the copious amount of referral mail that has been shipped by the committee to the White House. The committee has asked via their website that those who wish to contribute to the campaign either email their name to firstname.lastname@example.org or type a letter no more than one page long directed toward you, President Obama, and email it to the address above.
“Obama reads like 10 letters every night, and (the Correspondence Office) said our letters are in that pool to be picked out for Obama to read,” Bowling said. “Most invitations to the White House automatically get a response back saying, ‘Thank you for the invitation; we have to decline’…We haven’t gotten that yet. So, the fact that they haven’t said no puts us in an elite percentage.”
Manual and the rest of Kentucky are still awaiting the final decision, but the superintendent is already prepared and willing to accommodate a last-minute visit from the President at graduation. Yet, regardless of the outcome, Perry and Bowling are optimistic of their accomplishment thus far, as it has proven, Bowling said, that they’ve built something that will ultimately put America’s youth in a better position.
“It would be great for Manual, the city, the state (if Obama agreed to deliver the commencement speech),” Bowling said. “And I think, just the story that a couple of 18-year-old kids got the President of the United States to come to their high school in Kentucky. I think that’s going to be motivating for the entire country.”
President Obama, in a past commencement speech you delivered to the Julia R. Masterman School, you said, “Nobody gets to write your destiny but you…And nothing – absolutely nothing – is beyond your reach, so long as you’re willing to dream big.”
The Manual class of 2012 have not only dreamt big, but they’ve also taken big action to achieve a dream many people older and wiser would have thought impossible.
Please, President Obama reward this student body for their hard work, persistence and willingness to dream. And, please be willing to turn that dream into reality.
Ashley Anderson, Staff Writer for The Voice-Tribune