After the marathon day before and the late night gala, we were all so happy that we got to sleep a little later. We met at 10:00 to go to the White House for an education policy meeting with Roberto Rodriquez, assistant to the president. We went through the security checks, identification, socials, close looks in the face. I whipped out my phone to get a picture of the beautiful tulips. “Ma’am! This is a secure area. No pictures or videoing allowed!” (Oops) We clowned around in line and took pictures, when we could, of each other. It almost felt like a field trip. Only we were the excited students and Jon Quam was the teacher. He had already told us on the bus to contain our exuberance, but we just couldn’t help it.
Inside, we went through more checks and eventually met with President Obama’s staffers. We “ooohed” and “aaahhhed” at the beautiful marble and staircases. We each had a place at the table… A PLACE. Isn’t that what all teachers want? Time was tight. There was a minute by minute schedule that the assistant was following, but we managed to get in some good questions, comments, and concerns. My hand was up three times, but as I said, time was tight. We had a meeting with the president. I couldn’t get in my questions. That’s OK. The STOYs who did get in, did you proud.
We quickly ate lunch and were whisked away to the White House dining room. The soggy ground didn’t allow for a Rose Garden ceremony, but we were able to hang out in the dining room, red room, green room, blue room, and east room. I can’t describe the beauty. Rich, dark wood, marble, huge fireplaces, floor to ceiling drapes, silk wall coverings, large windows that overlooked the awesome monuments that make D.C. what it is. There were huge paintings of the men who ran the free world from that very building. The furniture was ornate and so stately. As we waited, we took a thousand more pictures. I held my tiger ribbon close.
Then, it was time. We got into position… by height. I was on the shorter end. I stood between Alaska and West Virgina. Our smiles were huge! We could hear the president talking to our classmates as we inched up. Then I saw him, and for a minute, he almost didn’t seem real, but he was. He was laughing and talking and making us feel welcome. We each gripped a name card so that military personnel could introduce us to him. It was almost my turn. “Card please, ma’am. Step up.” I stepped to the mark… I didn’t see it, but apparently secret service and military did. “Your name is easy. Thanks for an easy name.” I smiled back at the military guy with all the medals. I needed to prepare my thoughts, and he was thanking me for my plain name. “You will see a flash, flash. Then walk up to the president, ma’am.”
The president’s smile was huge! He is super tall! He is really handsome, and he was so kind to everybody. “How are you?” (Not sure what I said) “What part of Texas are you from?” “Texarkana.”
“Texarkana.” (He said the word!)
“What do you teach?”
“English… to juniors”
“Juniors!??? You look like you ARE a junior.” He turned to secret service. “Doesn’t she look like a high school junior?”
I don’t know what they said.
“Yes, sir. I’m ending my 16th year.”
“Thank you for what you do for kids.” He put his arm around me.
We faced the photographer. I think I might have been talking when the flash happened. Time will tell. Argh!
Then I moved forward, and I was announced to all of America.
As I entered the room, I was disoriented a minute by the flashes and the crowd, and although we had just practiced, for a split second, I didn’t know which way to walk!
I saw my classmates clapping on the risers and I walked to join them.
Once we were all in place, it got quiet. I looked around at all the cameras, our families, and the blinding lights. I wondered which camera Texarkana could see me through. I had just read Mr. Bailey’s email to the staff. I knew they were watching. Ricky was smirking. Then the president, the secretary, and Sean entered. The president’s speech was great and he joked with us a little on the stage. “This is a good looking group!” He presented Sean with his apple, and then Sean rocked his speech. I’m so proud of him!
Afterwards, we were all looking around at our families as they snapped pictures. The president said, “Squeeze in. Act like you like each other! Let’s take the official shot. Look at THAT camera.” We laughed. He said, “I’m proud of you all. Now, some of us have to go to work.” Then he walked away to prepare for a prime minister’s visit. We had ten minutes, that’s it, to see our families before leaving for the STOY press conference.
We were told all week that we were rock stars who represented rock stars. Everyone treated us exactly like rock stars, too. I walked out squeezing my tiger ribbon as little kids screamed at us from the gate. We waved. We snapped more pictures. We went to our press conference. Someone grabbed me and said, “Texas, you need to stay for an interview.”
I stood there looking at my classmates, looking at kids at the gate, looking at that huge house. I thought about everyone at home. I thought about the history that had occurred right on those grounds. I realized that for me, for my family, for my students, for my friends, for my community, for Texas teachers, and for every teacher who ever called me a student, magic had just happened.