Style and Substance

How Memphis can keep its positive momentum going.



President Obama and 2011 graduates of Booker T. Washington High School made some eloquent remarks Monday about overcoming failure and adversity, but the pressing question is how Memphis will handle its recent success.

Memphians are enjoying the afterglow of Obama's visit and the Grizzlies' successful season. The themes of the last few weeks have been "believe" and "come together" to support the team and the BTW grads.

Will it last, or will Memphis revert to being a city divided black and white, city and county, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat?

Yes, the Grizzlies players said all the right things about the gritty city and loyal fans, but now Shane Battier and Marc Gasol are free agents, and they might not be back.

Yes, Obama was joined by Democratic congressman Steve Cohen and Republican senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander on Air Force One and at the graduation ceremony, but it's not likely that they agreed on a budget, Social Security, and Medicare while they were up in the air.

Yes, Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash was joined by Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken at the graduation ceremony, but the issue of merging the two systems is a long way from being resolved.

Yes, BTW boasts an 82 percent graduation rate, but the overall graduation rate for MCS is 70 percent and the system is losing enrollment.

Like everyone else, I hope Memphis builds on its good fortune. I want to believe. I'll start when I hear something like this:

From Shane Battier: "It's not where you play, it's where you stay. Whether I finish my career here or not, I'll be back. I've been watching the career of NBA Hall of Famer, entrepreneur, and current mayor Dave Bing in Detroit."

From Marc Gasol: "I could get a few more million a year somewhere else, but who needs another Bentley? And I want to win a championship in Memphis."

From Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander: "We've got some real lightweights in our party who have no business running for president. If it comes down to Palin against Obama, I'll bolt."

From Steve Cohen: "Senators Corker and Alexander and I have more in common than you might think."

From Kriner Cash: "For these 155 graduates, money in our budget had less to do with their success than their personal motivation. You can't graduate if you don't come to school, and that means starting on August 8th this year, not after Labor Day. A billion-dollar budget means nothing if the kids don't come."

From John Aitken: "These BTW graduates are fine young men and women who want to learn just as much as county students. There is no reason why our two systems should not go ahead and merge. And let's make it 2012 instead of 2013."

From Bill Haslam: "I plan to have my commissioner of education find out why some Memphis schools overachieve and some underachieve, and when I do I'll let everyone know. And if we find any shenanigans, watch out."

From the BTW graduates: "Thanks, Mr. President, for reminding us that we are competing with students in China and India. And for telling us to aim high. Our test scores are rising but still have a long way to go, but we'll get there."

From former BTW graduates Willie Herenton and Johnnie B. Watson: "Dr. Cash, you've got to close some schools. As former superintendents, we know how hard that is. But Memphis can't operate schools that are half empty. Call if we can help. We're on your side."

From the BTW parents: "This is how you are supposed to dress and behave at a graduation. Pretend the president is there."

From the Shelby County school board and parents: "You know, maybe we overreacted. We can live with MCS."

From the Memphis school board and parents: "No more us-and-them means just that. We're not playing the race card or using 'economically disadvantaged' as an excuse."

From private-school parents: "Maybe we should take another look at public education. It's kind of hypocritical to talk about what's best for other people's children."

From teachers completing their second year in the classroom: "Law school can wait. I plan to come back for a few more years because I'm a better teacher now than I was when I came here."

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