BRIDGEPORT, Wash. - Bridgeport was one of three finalists, but President Obama will not be delivering the commencement speech this spring at the high school in the Eastern Washington orchard town.
Five girls who helped make a video touting the school waited with the principal in her office for the call. They cried when the call came from the White House and waited in the office as other students filed into the gymnasium for the announcement.
Two teachers did a dance in the gymnasium before a school assembly to cheer the students up. Principal Tamara Jackson announced that the governor and an as-yet-unnamed cabinet secretary would be speaking instead.
Originally scheduled for Monday, the White House delayed its announcement on which of three high schools from around the country would have the honor of welcoming the president.
Booker T. Washington High in Memphis school has been selected. The third school was in San Diego.
“I’m so proud of the schools that participated in this year’s commencement challenge and I want to thank all of them for their hard work and dedication,” said Obama.
The school largely serves the students of farm workers who labor in the neighboring apple and cherry orchards, and 100 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch. Many are the only members of their household who speak English, and some are the first in their families to finish high school, let alone go on to college.
Yet all 37 seniors at Bridgeport will graduate this year, and all plan to attend college or trade school.
Ana Soto, a senior who will attend Whitworth University, said her parents would be disappointed with the news.
"They'll be happy to know that we tried," she said, adding that she learned a lot from the experience.
"That we can work together," she said. "And that our school has done a lot for us."
Gregoire said in a statement that the presidential challenge highlights some of the most innovative and inspiring high schools across the country. Bridgeport fits that category, she said, and the students are rising above the odds and breaking barriers of the past.
"They have made Washington proud," she said.