President Obama met privately with the family of a Tennessee student who was fatally shot this week before delivering an address on education reform proposals at his high school.
Obama briefly acknowledged the tragedy at the top of his remarks, telling students "the past couple of days have been hard and tested people's spirits."
According to local media reports, 17-year-old high school student Kaemon Robinson was charged with criminal homicide after the fatal shooting of his friend, 15-year-old Kevin Barbee. According to the police, witnesses said Robinson was playing with a gun at an apartment off campus when it accidentally discharged, killing Barbee.
The president said the school had shown a remarkable academic turnaround because "you've been there for each other," and implored students "in the weeks and months ahead" to "keep being there for each other."
"This community cares about you; this country cares about you, and we want to celebrate what you've achieved, because the message I want to send here today is, we want every challenge to have every chance in life, every chance at happiness, every chance at success," Obama said.
WSMV-TV reported that the White House contacted the school's principal about canceling the visit out of respect to the slain teen, but school officials ultimately opted to go ahead with the event.
"Knowing Kevin and the personality that he has, I don't think he would want things just to stop," McGavock High School Principal Robbin Wall told the network. "We'll treat it with respect and the dignity like it should be, but in the same breath, want to follow through with the commitments we have as well."
Obama did not acknowledge the nature of the death in his remarks, or use the comment to push for the expansion of gun controls he has previously championed.
Instead, Obama's remarks focused primarily on education proposals he outlined in his State of the Union address. The president touted the school system's recently reformed curriculum, designed in partnership with 250 companies across fields including health science, design, aviation and hospitality.
"We can restructure how our high schools are structured to make sure every student is engaged," Obama said.
Obama also touted his administration's efforts to reduce college costs.
"A quality education shouldn’t be something that other kids get—it should be something that all our kids get," Obama said.
Former Vice President Al Gore and actress Ashley Judd were both in attendance at the event, and met with the president before he spoke.
Judd described the conversation as "privileged chit chat."
“We talked about the First Lady’s 50th birthday party, and how fantastic it is just to boogie," she said. "And the tribute he made to his wife was incredibly loving as well as deeply touching.”