Students and parents in Topeka, Kan., would rather First Lady Michelle Obama not speak at their graduation than sacrifice seats for their family and friends.
The Topeka school district was originally honored that Obama planned to address a combined graduation ceremony of five area high schools for the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which outlawed segregation in schools.
The event will be held in an 8,000-seat arena, which cut the number of guests each student could invite. Parents say they were told they could only invite four guests. Expensive graduation announcements that families sent out are now wrong and students are worried the combined commencement will also mean six hours of sitting in a chair waiting to be called.
“Those with divorced families have to choose which side of the family they want to invite, this doesn’t even include siblings,” says a petition on Change.org which was started by high school senior Taylor Gifford.
"People think it's a great opportunity, but it's the graduates' time. They are getting that diploma that they worked so hard for," said 18-year-old Gifford. "Families are feeling that they are being cheated out of the loved ones special day."
She started the petition Thursday to urge the district to cancel the event, at least for her school, USD 501. The petition had more than 1,500 signatures Saturday.
“There are problems that come with the combining of the commencements,” the petition says. “First of all, for most families in 501, money is short and we have spent hundreds of dollars buying graduation announcements that are now incorrect. The district has stated they will not refund this.”
“Topeka High School’s graduation on its own takes approximately two and a half hours,” it says. “The combining of five high schools will increase that to about six hours. With increased security the total time will be brought up to eight hours.”
“This is not fair, what it’s doing,” parent Tina Hernandez told The Capital-Journal. “My son is more important than Michelle Obama.”