White House surprises Massachusetts high school with presidential visit announcement
March 20th, 2014
05:31 PM ET
6 years ago

White House surprises Massachusetts high school with presidential visit announcement

(CNN) - Worcester Tech High School Principal Sheila Harrity got the shock of her life, and then had to keep it secret for a week and a half. But, on Thursday she got the okay to reveal to 311 graduating high school seniors that President Barack Obama will be their commencement speaker.

A White House official says the administration picked the high school in the central Massachusetts city because the school, "has made outstanding headway in boosting its graduation rate, implementing cutting edge vocational programs, and ensuring that all of its students have the opportunity to succeed."

The White House adds that the President's address at the Worcester, Massachusetts school will be his only high school commencement speech this year.

Harrity says the White House asked her to keep the news quiet until they were ready to announce it. She asked if she could tell her students right before the news broke, and her contact agreed. Harrity set up a senior assembly meeting Thursday ostensibly to discuss putting the graduation together."

She says, "As I was going through my powerpoint and reflecting on their four year experience at Worcester Tech and incredible opportunities throughout their four years, I then announced that we have a commencement speaker, and flipped to the next slide and said, 'President Obama will be your commencement speaker.' At that point the students were totally in shock, and their mouths dropped and their eyes got as big as saucers."

"They were kind of wondering if I was just pulling their leg. And then their shock turned into tears.. and then it turned into hugs, high fives, fist pumping and sheer celebration in the auditorium. It's something I will remember forever, and I feel so fortunate that he selected our school," Harrity added.

Harrity says she didn't know the school was being considered, "until, I got an email with the subject line, 'Question from the White House.'"

Worcester Tech is one of the oldest career and tech schools in the country. Harrity says that, "In the late 1990's, early 2000's unfortunately we were the lowest performing high school in our city and one of the poorest performing vocational schools in our state."

But Harrity added that "our community rallied around a new $90-million facility which we opened in 2006. So we had that baseline, but there were certainly high expectations and our students and staff have certainly lived up and exceeded the expectations of our community. "

Harrity says the school's mission is to create what she calls, a "workforce pipeline." To that end, the school now operates and trains students on campus to run everything from a 125 seat full service restaurant, where students prepare meals and serve customers from the community - to a full service bank operated with the Worcester Credit Union. Students also manage and operate a L'OREAL/Redkin Day Spa on campus where the public can come in and get their hair done. There is even a 16 bay Toyota Garage on campus where students service 250 vehicles a month. Harrity says kids learn to change oil, and by the time they graduate can rebuild transmissions."

A student run graphics department handles all the printing operations for the City of Worcester.

"This year the school is putting together a partnership curriculum that trains students to work as linemen with the power company, National Grid," says Harrity, who added that some students decide they don't want to go to college, and for those students these programs send them out the door ready to work.

"Those are some of the things we do here, because we believe that authentic learning experiences are how students learn best, and it is all about trying to connect those relationships and partnerships so that our students can connect their academic learning to real world applications."

Harrity has been the principal at Worcester Tech since it reopened at the new campus in 2006. She started out in education as an elementary school teacher, and is proud that she was born and raised in Worcester and adds that she too is, "a product of Worcester public schools."

Filed under: Massachusetts • President Obama
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Tony D

    I am super excited about this! It is close enough for me to go and protest Obama and the miserable job he is doing as President. It will my first political rally ever but I feel it is important to do for the future of my children.

    March 20, 2014 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  2. Gurgyl

    Now this nation is recuperating from the Blows of Bush, Reagan idiots. Now USA is heading in a right direction. Go to school and get educated. Do not go to wars for financial reasons, let rich congress/senate kids go.

    March 20, 2014 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  3. Rick McDaniel

    Welcome to another propaganda session with the propagandist in chief.

    March 20, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  4. Tommy G

    Once again exploiting young useful idiots that think he is some sort of rock star when he will go down as this country's worse President and the biggest mistake the country has ever made. He is a HORRIBLE role model for young people.

    March 20, 2014 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  5. Silence DoGood

    @Tony D
    I am super excited about this! It is close enough for me to go and protest Obama and the miserable job he is doing as President. It will my first political rally ever but I feel it is important to do for the future of my children.
    Go for it. If you are lucky, the Radical Right Theocracy will come and your children's future will be a classroom without science.

    March 20, 2014 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  6. king

    Obama has brought this country from the brink of annihilation, and it seems that the country cannot stop growing. how the hell can a country grow 12 straight quarters, without a dip. i got to look up how long this country ever went without a negative quarter. this might be a record. 45 straight month jobs gain is unheard of. only if the repubs wasn't trying like hell to kill this economy. the establishment wants to kill it because they want to gain back power. the tea party wants to kill it because they cannot sleep at night with that black man in the white house.

    March 20, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  7. don in albuquerque

    Atta boy Tony D. I'm certain your children will be cringing in embarrassment in the corner.

    March 20, 2014 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  8. Tampa Tim

    Tony D – You must not know that Obama is ranked as one of the best presidents in history, and W is ranked as one of the worst. Maybe Dallas would be a good place to take your protest.

    March 20, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  9. Chris-E...al

    I bet 0bama he will give them a free lunch .They will Prob need it in his economy ! Thats right where dems want us begging for help and they are doing a realy nice l0vely j0b F0R S0ME .so careing and kind and power hungry and self centered chops in nov 14 .

    March 20, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  10. Concerned citizen

    Tony, you missed a lot of opportunities in 8 years when Bush was the President!

    March 21, 2014 12:21 am at 12:21 am |