WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama will return home to Chicago’s South Side in June to deliver the commencement address at King College Prep, the Sun-Times has learned. That was Hadiya Pendleton’s high school.
Pendleton’s murder in 2013 touched a chord with Michelle Obama.
The 15-year-old was shot to death in 2013 in a park about a mile from the Obama family’s Kenwood home and not all that far from 7436 S. Euclid, where she was raised. She flew to Chicago to attend Pendleton’s funeral and invited her parents to sit with her at the 2013 State of the Union Address.
Back in Chicago in April 2013, Obama reflected in a speech, “As I visited with the Pendleton family at Hadiya’s funeral, I couldn’t get over how familiar they felt to me. Because what I realized was Hadiya’s family was just like my family. Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her. But I got to grow up.”
Hadiya Pendleton, had she lived, would have been a member of King’s class of 2015.
King, at 4445 S. Drexel, earned the honor of having the first lady speak at its graduation ceremony on June 9 by winning a video “commencement challenge” contest connected to her “Reach Higher” initiative.
“Reach Higher” is her drive to encourage students to attend college or continue past high school for professional training. One element of “Reach Higher” is helping to secure financial assistance — either federal grants, loans or work-study checks.
Toward that end, she is focusing on encouraging students and their parents to complete the FAFSA form — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — which is the most important step in qualifying for aid. The video competition was part of the effort to spur FAFSA form submissions.
The video that King students and faculty recorded last month at the school was a takeoff on the hit show “Scandal.”
Eric Waldo, executive director of Reach Higher, said Michelle obama made the “final selection” of the winner.
What made the high school’s video “stand out was its originality. The students were creative in using pop culture to put together a video that grabbed the attention of the viewer, while highlighting the importance of students completing their FAFSA,” Waldo told the Sun-Times.
“The video was selected on these commendable merits, but the significance of this class being what would have been Hadiya Pendleton’s graduating class was not lost on the first lady,” Waldo said.
“It kind of brings it full circle for the students, because, of course, [Obama] spoke at Hadiya’s funeral in 2013,” Principal David Narain told the Sun-Times. “This class does feel connected to the first lady in some ways.”
“This was a large part of the impetus for applying for this competition in the first place, knowing that we were trying to recognize the significance of this graduation for this class,” he said.
Alana Mbanza, the school’s college and career coach, was the driving force behind the contest application and video. All the production was done at the school. “We were a little nervous because we don’t have the best equipment. We are not as well-equipped as suburban schools,” Narain said.
At King, 98 percent of eligible seniors completed their FAFSA assistance applications.
The school is named for the slain civil rights giant the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. That Pendleton lost her life to violence is not lost on anyone, especially because “this tragedy took place so close to home,” Narain said.
The King Prep graduation is at Chicago State University’s Convocation Center. Narain said he hopes Hadiya’s mother, Cleopatra, and father, Nathaniel attend.
“I know the significance of this graduating class won’t be lost on the first lady,” Narain said.