President Obama suggested Tuesday that "winning the future" means investing in good, innovative education for the nation's students. However, not many students have apparently felt inspired enough by that message to enter a contest to have the president speak at their high school's commencement ceremony.
Last year, the White House began an annual ritual in which high schools around the country enter a competition to have the president speak at their graduation. The 2010 applicants for the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge flooded in at more than 1,000-strong.
However, according to an internal White House memo obtained by CBS news, the total so far for this year's applicants is in the double-digits and the White House has extended the deadline to apply from February 25th to March 11. When the extension was announced, there was no mention of the low applicant number.
As CBS reports, the White House wanted it that way. The February 22 internal White House memo noted, CBS says, "As of yesterday we had received 14 applications and the deadline is Friday...please keep the application number close hold."
A memo issued six days later lamented the then 68 applicant number and encouraged members of the cabinet and those with contacts in Congress and other elected positions to push for their local schools to apply. "Something isn't working," said the unnamed memo writer, according to CBS.
As the president continues his very public push for education investment; today even announcing a new agency to head up innovation; his aides are loathe to say openly that his message isn't catching on.
When asked if the administration was embarrassed by the low applicant turnout, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney replied, "I would just say that the Commencement Challenge last year was a fantastic process that led to a terrific event that showcased a school in Kalamazoo, and we expect the same to happen this time."
He added, "We have a large number of applicants and we look forward to a process that will produce a winner and a commencement speech from the President."
But when asked for the numbers, Carney said he didn't know how many applicants there were this time around.
White House Spokesperson Gannet Tseggai told Fox News, "We're pleased by the quality applications that are coming in and the President looks forward to encouraging young people to graduate from high school and pursue college and careers."