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Obama at Kalamazoo Central High School: How did it win the honor?

Kalamazoo Central High School beat out more than 1,000 applicants to win the Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge. Obama delivers the school's graduation speech Monday night.

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President Barack Obama attends the Kalamazoo Central High School graduation at Western Michigan University in Michigan, Monday.

Larry Downing/Reuters

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For Kalamazoo Central High School, President Obama's commencement address Monday is a measure of how far the school has come.

This is an urban school in Michigan, which has the highest unemployment rate in America. At K-Central, there have been big gaps between the enrollment of students in their freshman year and their graduation rates. Not too long ago, crime-related stories seemed to grab as many headlines as those about learning achievements and sports victories.

But in recent years, the academic improvement in Kalamazoo has been notable. For one thing, since 2006, 91 percent of K-Central graduates have gone to college for at least one semester. Key to that achievement has been an innovative program called the Kalamazoo Promise.

Now, K-Central has beaten out more than 1,000 applicants across the United States to win the Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge. The prize is having Mr. Obama speak at graduation.

The president himself picked K-Central from six finalists, which included two magnet schools, two charter schools, and a suburban public school.

While senior Kathryn Dugal originally thought that Obama’s presence could hijack graduation, she now sees it as a community event that will become an indelible memory.

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