Obama to meet with Center City high school's seniors

President Obama: meeting with students at SLA.
President Obama: meeting with students at SLA.
Posted: May 17, 2012

At first, Douglas Wallace, a senior at the Science Leadership Academy, thought it was a prank when he heard President Obama plans to meet with the school’s graduating seniors when he comes to the Franklin Institute for a fundraiser on June 12.

“We were very excited,” Wallace, 18, said of hearing the news from Frederic Bertley, the vice president of science and innovation at the Franklin Institute.

“The way he [Bertley] told us, he started off saying, ‘Guys, we have some bad news, graduation has been moved’ [from June 12 to June 11].”

Wallace said Bertley started walking out of the calculus class when a fellow student asked why the graduation date for the school’s 121 seniors was being changed.

“He said, ‘Because on June 12, you’re going to meet with the president.’ And the whole class just bursted into ‘oohs’ and ‘wows,’” Wallace said.

Science Leadership Academy, 22nd Street near Arch in Center City, is a small magnet school with less than 500 students that focuses on science and engineering. A spokeswoman for the Franklin Institute, which helps operate the public high school, declined to comment on the president’s appearance.

Wallace said at first he thought his mother would be upset because she had already taken June 12 off from work.

“She was excited for me,” he said. “She said, ‘Thank you for not telling me at the last minute.’”

Melody Damis said her daughter Maxime “called me in the middle of the day Monday and said, ‘Mom, they’ve moved graduation.’ Immediately I’m thinking, you’ve got to me kidding me. We had dinner reservations and people coming into town.”

“And then she [Maxime] started laughing and said, ‘Now, do you want to know why? Because President Obama is going to come and talk with us ... instead.’”

Damis said she first thought Obama was coming to visit SLA because the school has a national reputation for excellence.

“It’s hands down the best high school in the country,” Damis said. “The program is unique, and with so much of the school district in disarray, this is a school that works.”

Damis said she will alert her daughter’s grandparents and change dinner reservations to June 11.

“I think getting an audience with the president of the United States, in your cap and gown, is pretty much all you need on one night, especially when you’re only 18 years old,” Damis said. n

Contact Valerie Russ at 215-854-5987 or russv@phillynews.com.

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