Since we woke up at 4:45 this morning, each and every one of us was buzzing with a distinct and insuppressible energy that came from the knowledge that we were to have a privilege that most people only dream about.
Never have girls ever been so excited to go through security. Of course a few lengthy lines, a few hours without a cell phone or camera, and a few secret service officers don’t compare to a the chance to meet the leader of the free world. Of course, the fact that the lines were shared with Boys Nation Senators did not hurt.
As we entered the White House, we were given free reign over a rainbow of different rooms. The red room, the green room, the blue room, and the yellow room, each packed with history in different forms. Paintings of famous Presidents, the plates and dishes they ate from, books that gave them knowledge, the chairs where our heroes sat, and the hallowed halls they walked, all around us there was a presidential glow. There are few feelings that can match looking out the window at the Capitol building, from the lavish interior of the White House, and feeling (if even silly, and just for a moment) like the President.
After a thorough inspection of the building’s great splendors, we were ushered onto risers and seats to pose for a picture with the president and awaited his arrival. But of course, like every good president, we waited impatiently for long enough for our heeled feet to ache and for the boys to break out in song (and you all know how often boys break out into song). It wasn’t long before we joined in for spontaneous renditions of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah”, and then “America, America” in a round. Many of the girls bit back tears of patriotism and fierce anticipation, and boys chanted USA so loudly we were nervous the President would hear us.
Once the ambiance had died down to a gentle rumble, the nervousness of the group sharpened into an acute focus. Finally, after Chuck the photographer had run out of jokes, we saw a door open at the end of the hall, and the President of the United States walked into the room.
It was one of those moments when the world seemed to slow down, yet still it felt as if our time with him was over in an instant. President Barack Obama thanked the American Legion family for its service to our nation’s veterans and told us that he was proud of each of us. He was also sure to tell us that “Michelle says, ‘hey’”.
One of the men with us from the American Legion pointed out that the president’s birthday was coming up (August 4th, if anyone was wondering). We quickly launched into a rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”, unfortunately without quite the same overall talent possessed by Marilyn Monroe.
Then it was time for the picture: photographic evidence that we had been in the same room, breathed the same air, as arguably the single most powerful person out of the whole of the living human race. The lines on the bleachers parted as rehearsed to make way for the President as he stood between two of our fellow Girls Nation senators and said “cheese” with us, successfully conjuring a mass of nervous smiles. We had been told at the beginning of the week that we were one in a million, but at that moment we truly began to believe it. Following photographs with the Boys Nation senators and then the AL and ALA staff, it was time for the United States President to depart, bidding us goodbye with a classic presidential wave and leaving us shocked, excited, and looking forward to seeing ourselves on “West Wing Week” next Friday.
Exhausted, adrenaline filled, and trying to process what had just happened, we returned to the 4H Center to prepare for the talent show. While we had just met the president, there were several other meetings this week that quite possibly may have impacted our lives just as much: meeting each other. Sitting back in the Ohio Room, watching triumphant fingers dash across piano keys, listening to powerful voices that stirred our hearts and challenged our minds, songs that spoke of strength, friendship, and love, and a good portion of creative skits and comedy acts that brought the sweet to the bittersweet feeling of goodbye, we realized just how connected we all are. We have formed friendships with some of the strongest, smartest, kindest, most passionate, and most beautiful young women that any of us have ever met. In just one week, we have lived a lifetime.