While most of Washington D.C. was closed down due to a snow storm, the PAEMST winners were told that this was the day we were to meet the President. We were so thrilled by the prospect of meeting POTUS that we journeyed through this snow storm to the Metro station and walked multiple blocks, all while dressed to the nines, to make it happen.
As you can see, I packed my “White House” shoes in a plastic bag and carried them along with me as I walked through the storm in my tennis shoes and snowboarding jacket. My loving husband walked to the local CVS the night before and bought me this poncho to make sure I would still look decent when I met President Obama.
Upon arriving, we were ushered through several clearance gates where I received a special tag indicating that I was cleared to be in the building.
We began the day in the Eisenhower Building, which is adjacent to the White House. We had the great opportunity to hear several speakers who shared many resources that teachers can tap into to promote greater learning in their classrooms. My favorite was Linda Gojak, who spoke of math talks. I can’t wait to share it with my fellow teachers back at home!
The architecture in this building was spectacular! I was overwhelmed by the amount of history that resided within these walls.
As we listened to the speakers, we knew that our visit with the President was coming soon. We all began to get antsy and started taking silly photos with a photo of POTUS himself that was hanging on the wall in the room where we had spent the day.
As we were wrapping up the events at the Eisenhower Building, we were given these little mementos of our visit. M & M’s and candies with the Presidential Seal and the president’s signature. I am not sure if I can actually bring myself to eat them!
Finally it was time to walk from this building to the White House. This was it! The moment I had been dreaming about since I submitted my application so long ago. I was really going to meet Barack Obama! Upon arrival, they ushered us the the East Room, which had held state dinners and is also where a president who is killed in office rests in state. The most recent of these was President Kennedy. To be in this room was overwhelming to say the least. All the winners were organized on risers for the picture with the president and I was lucky enough to secure a spot very close to the man himself!
When he arrived, he spoke to us about how thankful he was that we math and science teachers were in the classroom each and everyday supporting the youth of our nation. He also joked that he was once good at math, until he began to “goof off” in high school. What struck me about this encounter was not so much what he said, but who he was. He seemed so genuine and authentic. Once while he was speaking to us, he made eye contact with me and the realness of this situation hit home. I was in the White House standing 10 feet away from the current President of the United States, while he was thanking me for being a teacher.
After he spoke to us and we took several photos, we were each given the opportunity to introduce ourselves and shake his hand. Due to my prime location, I was able to overhear what he said to many of my fellow winners. Among his comments were:
Winner who had her luggage lost by the airport, “I’m sorry to be in jeans for this meeting. The airport lost my luggage. It is an honor to meet you.”
President Obama, “I would be in jeans too if they would let me. They make me wear this suit!”
Winner named Jed Dearybury says, “My name is Jed Dearybury and I am from South Carolina.”
President Obama, “I wish my name was Dearybury.”
Fellow winner from CA, “My students want me to fist bump you instead of shake hands.”
President Obama then fist bumps her with a “booyah” at the end with a finger wiggle. Once he told her that was the right was to do it, they did it again.
While overhearing all of these interactions, I was also taken by how funny and charismatic President Obama is.
When I had my chance to shake his hand I introduced myself and thanked him for all that he had done for our country. He in turn thanked me for all that I had done for my students and my country. It was a very brief, but poignant, exchange.
I would also like to note how soft the president’s hands are…
After President Obama finished meeting us all, he was escorted out of the East Room to continue running the country. Due to the weather, most of the government had shut down for the day along with the city. This meant that there was really nobody around. I believe it was because of this stroke of luck that we were given an opportunity to wander through several of the White House rooms including the East Room, Red Room, Blue Room, and Green Room. We were somehow allowed to take photos, which is somewhat unheard of. All the winners roamed around looking at all the history that these rooms had to offer. It was unreal! I even sat in one of the chairs in the Red Room. Who knows who else may have also sat in that chair?
The painting of President Washington is the original that Dolly Madison saved as she fled the fire that burned down the White House originally. Notice that I had already changed my shoes and we were preparing to take the long walk and Metro back to the hotel. They go well with my dress, right?
I couldn’t help but grab a few more photos as we exited the White House. By a few, I mean that the Secret Service was saying, “You need to wrap it up, Ma’am.” to which I replied, “Yes, Sir!” and I snapped more photos while I walked to the exit gate.
I was on Cloud 9 for the entire trip back to the hotel. Strangely, though the temperature had not really changed, I didn’t feel as cold. It must have been because I had just met the President of the United States!
As if this was not enough, I was informed shortly after this visit that I was to be quoted on the White House Blog about the PAEMST award!