Electrifying Atmosphere Invigorates and Inspires Volunteer
Upon arriving at the Memphis Cook Convention Center on May 16 for the Booker T. Washington High School graduation, what I saw appeared to be mass confusion. There were cars, people, T-shirt vendors, and a vast variety of others converging on the building. There were numerous law enforcement units from various agencies (Secret Service, Shelby County Sheriff, SWAT, Memphis Police, etc.) on, around, and in the facility brandishing rifles, pistols, and tact gear. But amid all this perceived bedlam, I felt a peaceful calm.
Though most people were dressed to impress, many showed their BTW school pride by wearing some sort of attire from caps, “I AM 1” buttons, ties, and even jewelry with BTW on it. While standing in line, I began to think of how historic and amazing this was for me too.
I’ve worked at FedEx for 27 years and for more than 11 years, I have happily volunteered my time at BTW. And to be here at the graduation with students who I’ve seen grow and achieve outstanding results, makes me proud. So as I passed through screening then headed into the ballroom, my excitement began to grow not only for wanting to see the students proudly walk across the stage but because I, like the hundreds of other people in the room, was going to see President Barack Obama.
My volunteer peers (FedEx and non-FedEx) and I all agreed it was an unbelievable feeling of anticipation. Though many were seated, there were numerous people roaming about snapping pictures of everything from backdrops to logos, tickets, and programs. Then the announcement was made for us to take our seats. The intensity was turned up and the anticipation became almost unbearable.
When principal Alisha Kiner and the 155 BTW graduates entered the ballroom, the atmosphere was electrifying. Then upon hearing the words, “ladies and gentlemen the President of the United States, Barack Obama,” there was a unified cheer and ovation. Everyone seemingly and simultaneously sprang to their feet. He entered from the back stage amid a sea of flash bulbs and clicking cameras. He came in waving and smiling to all with that charismatic smile that has been so mesmerizing. With all eyes on him, he took his seat.
During his speech, President Obama spoke about the White House “Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge” contest, the floods, the poverty, and the broken homes. But in the midst of all that was negative, he always found a positive end and related it to the will and desire of BTW students to overcome and use their education and experience to their advantage. He so touched his audience, until many of us could only tear up at the power of his spoken word.
While listening to his speech, my peers and I would periodically look at each other and say that we couldn’t believe we were in his presence. Once President Obama finished his speech and the ovation died down, he stood on the stage and shook the hand of every one of the 155 graduates as they were given their diplomas and crossed the stage. The humility of someone so powerful was awe inspiring.
The impact of the president’s visit will resonate through this community and our city for years to come. With his speech and his presence, he has empowered and charged all those who heard him with a responsibility to make a positive change and impact on this world. As I exited the building and walked to my vehicle, I was dazed from the power of what I had just witnessed. I’m more committed and resolute than ever to continue the work that’s never finished – teaching and mentoring youth wherever I may find them.
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July 24, 2019
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