President Project: Obama will not give 2012 commencement address.


After nearly nine months of planning, sending letters, and garnering community support, the President Project made a disappointing announcement last Thursday night: President Obama, who they had asked several times to give the commencement address for the Class of 2012, would not be coming to Louisville.

“Our ultimate goal will remain unfulfilled,” the Project said on its Facebook page. “The President of the United States, Barack Obama, will not be the Class of 2012′s commencement speaker.”

Michael Perry (12) had started the Project in September, after seeing that President Obama’s Race to the Top, a perennial competition among high schools to have the President give their commencement address, would not take place for 2012. Despite this, Perry thought that he could persuade the President to make a visit, given Manual’s reputation.

To this effect, Perry, Matthew Garofalo (12), Parker Bowling (12), Carolyn Brown (12), Allison Traylor (11), Jacob Sims (12), Julian Wright (11), Timothy Nwachukwu (12), and Ankush Gupta (12) began to generate support and publicity for the Project, which promoted both scholastic excellence and bipartisanship, with the help of several others. They made their intentions known over the course of September and October by announcing the project on several news outlets, including WHAS and WLKY, and by creating a formal invitation at one of Manual’s pep rallies. By January, they had garnered the support of Mayor Greg Fischer, JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens, and Governor Steve Beshear, the latter of whom made a video urging the President to attend Manual’s graduation ceremony.

The hype surrounding the project produced a significant and varied student and community response. Some pledged wholehearted support for the Project. Others were indifferent or pessimistic. Some even joked about it, creating a mock Facebook group called “The Bill Cosby Project.”

Still, the team also produced two videos: one, narrated by students and teachers, showcasing Manual’s achievements; the other showcasing Louisville as a city. It also launched a letter-writing campaign, encouraging students, teachers, and those in the community to write letters asking the President to come.

In February, the White House flagged the Project’s invitation as “important,” followed by a meeting between some of the Project members and First Lady Michelle Obama at a local fundraiser.

But that, ultimately, was the closest the Project ever got. After the flagging, the members never heard back from the White House. The President would need a high level of security that could potentially take weeks to plan, but the Project never received any of these security plans. So even though the White House never sent a definite “no,” by May 5, project members had to concede that the President would not be coming.

Acceptance of this disappointed the students, who had been working for months to achieve their goal. “On one side, I have closure,” Garofalo said, “but on the other, a feeling of emptiness because the goal is unfulfilled.”

Still, the members enjoyed the fact that the Project was entirely student-run and bipartisan. “I learned that it is still possible that some people can put their political views aside and work together,” Garofalo said. “It is possible that Democrats and Republicans can work together despite their significant differences.”

“It was the best lesson in politics you could ever have. I really learned exactly what to do to get stuff done,” Perry said.

Principal Larry Wooldridge is now scheduled to give the commencement address.

Students break ground with first student-organized Idea Festival


Michael Perry (12) stood offstage in the auditorium on the afternoon of Friday, April 27, waiting for Principal Larry Wooldridge to finish introducing him. The past couple of weeks had been long ones filled with run-throughs, sound checks, and advertising. Just minutes ago, Perry had been outside the auditorium, greeting students, teachers, and community leaders alike as they filed into their seats. Now, the product of hours upon hours of work was about to present itself.

“It’s here,” Perry thought. “It’s finally here.”

As Mr. Wooldridge finished his statement, Perry walked onstage, took the microphone, and began the opening remarks to the first annual Manual Idea Festival.

IFManual is Manual’s version of the popular IdeaFestival, an annual four-day series of speakers, artists, and performers, whose presentations are meant to spark creativity and innovation in their audiences. Perry, IFManual’s organizer, had conceived of the idea for a school version while arranging with IdeaFest director Kris Kimel for a number of Manual students to attend the main event in September.

A student-run IdeaFest had never been instituted before, and Perry’s concept was met with enthusiasm. Kris Kimel, the director of IdeaFest, gave him permission to use the IdeaFestival name and to form a partnership with the organization, after which Perry was able to set the dates for the event and begin to recruit speakers, both from among the student body and from the community at large, including the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.

Other aspects of the event were not so easily organized. Tickets to the original IdeaFest could cost up to hundreds of dollars, but Perry had to work to make Manual’s version free. “I wanted to make sure it was totally free, including the food, because if it wasn’t, no students would show up,” he said.

That meant searching for donors of food and money, for which Perry enlisted the help of his mother, Ms. Cindy Perry. She would constantly contact local businesses in the hopes of securing sponsorship. To some degree they were successful, and companies like the news organization InsiderLouisville and Baptist East Milestone Wellness Center set up booths at the festival.

Perry had expected and prepared for an attendance of 200, but only about half that number attended. Perry, however, was not bothered by this. “For the first day for the first time of a brand-new event, that’s pretty good,” he said.

Those 100 attendees, which included Kimel, Mayor Greg Fischer, and JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens, were treated to two days of presentations on a variety of topics, ranging from U of L professor Dr. Nat Irving’s view of futurism to Erin Bridges’ (12) and Jenna Farineau’s (10) presentation on environmental awareness.

Clare Hagan (10) had not originally planned to attend, but after seeing fliers advertising the event, she and her friend decided to sit in for a few hours. The experience, she said, was thought-provoking. “After listening to them, I had the desire to just go off and have an intellectual conversation,” she said. “It not only gave me stuff to think about, but it made me want to join in the conversation, and I think that’s the mark of a good idea.”

Jubin Shah (12), one of the presenters, was surprised by the smaller-than-expected number of people in the audience. Still, he was proud to have expressed his idea, a theory of everything, to a crowd. “It was the first time I actually presented this idea publicly,” he said. “So I was taking a big risk. I am glad that I had the guts to stand up and present. I will definitely take it as a learning experience for whenever I present publicly or go further with my idea.”

Though IFManual did not go by without problems—microphone and computer issues led presenter Pip Pullen to say, “I’ve seen better organized riots”—the organizers felt that, for its first year, IFManual achieved its purpose. “We went to the Greater Louisville, Inc. Association, when we started,” Cindy Perry said. “And their mission is to make Louisville the idea capital of the world, and at the high school level, you guys are already contributing to that.”

“The presentations were amazing,” Perry said. “I was really impressed and glad they all went so well. We didn’t have the numbers I’d been hoping, but really, of the two ways of measuring success, attendance and presentations, the more important one was highly successful.”