I’m still decompressing from the blur of the last several days and, in some ways, couple of weeks. I’m now safely home from Washington, D.C., where I went with my best friend to be honored for my work by the White House. And the President. As I was processing the events of last Thursday with my wife, she and I realized that this was one of those experiences that will become family lore, that will be passed on by my daughters and, hopefully, grandchildren as “something that Daddy did.” So I thought it’d be a good idea to try to get some of my recollections down as a piece of my own family history. That said, I suspect my recollections and reflections will trickle out over the next few weeks as I have some time to further process them.
Earlier this fall, a friend and colleague contacted me to let me know she had nominated me as a White House Champion of Change. I provided her with some of my resume, per her request, so that she could complete her nomination, and then I promptly forgot about it, as I has suggested others to nominate, and I was certain that others would and should receive this recognition. Then, in early November, I was contacted by the White House and asked to provide some contact information so that they could complete a standard security check. At that point, I hasn’t received an award, I was just in the running.
It was a couple of weeks later when I was notified that I had been selected, and then things started to happen very quickly. For a short moment, I considered whether or not it was worth it to bother traveling to Washington, D.C., to be honored. I asked my wife if she would consider joining me, and by the end of the day, had booked a flight. How many times does someone like me get to go to the White House? There were photos to take, as the White House needed a good headshot for their website, and some additional writing to do, as they wanted to add a blog post from me to their collection of stories from other Champions. And, of course, I needed a new suit. My last suit was one I purchased several years ago, and, well, I’d lost fifty pounds since that suit was acquired. It didn’t really do the job I needed it to do. Many travel arrangements were made, and my mother graciously agreed to watch our children so that Tiffany and I could travel together to experience the award ceremony. Quickly, things came together and we were off to Washington, D.C., and the White House.
On the day we flew to Washington, D.C., I made it to the gym for a run before the flight. While I was running, I caught the footage of a special event – the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to several notable Americans. Oprah Winfrey, President Bill Clinton, and Ben Bradlee were three of the award recipients who were honored in a ceremony in the East Room with President Obama. I remember thinking that their accomplishments were pretty amazing, and I thought that perhaps I was be so lucky as to catch a glimpse of the President, but that he would be too busy to visit with us during our time. We had been prepared that, although the President really liked to attend the Champions of Change events, that he was often too busy with the work of the day to stop by.
Thursday, November 21st, 2013
The day began with a trip to the White House for a public tour organized by the Office of Communications. This was the standard public tour, available to anyone who obtained a pass from their Congressional office.1 But in this case, we didn’t have to go through any waiting period – we were basically moved to the front of the line. Tiffany and I walked up to the White House and passed through several checkpoints. Our IDs were taken. And taken. And taken. A dog sniffed us for what I imagine was traces of explosives or weapons – we passed – and then we were inside the East Wing. While we couldn’t take photos inside, both Tiffany and I did manage to check in via Foursquare and Facebook to document that we were, in fact, inside the White House.
As we walked the hallways and made our way into rooms with so much history, I realized that we had entered a large room that seemed familiar. It struck me that I was in the same room I had watched the day before while running at my gym. We were in the East Room, where the day before, I watched Steven Spielberg wave across to his friend Oprah as the Presidents looked on. Whoa. We soaked in as much as we could, asking questions and exploring places I had read about and seen on television, but was now standing inside. We took our fill and emerged outside where it was once again safe to take pictures. Here’s one:
We then toured the grounds and took a few shots of the exterior that was so familiar. I discovered later that this was the entrance used by many dignitaries who visited the White House. To walk that same ground – wow.
It was then time to return to the hotel to prepare for the ceremony. As we made our way back, I took a quick scan of the President’s public schedule, something I’d begun doing once I knew when and where we would intersect with the Commander in Chief. And there was a new entry on the day’s events at 2pm:
The President would, indeed, be attending. Deep breath.
We changed for the ceremony and headed to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, or the EEOB as those in the know refer to it.2 After more security checks, we entered the labyrinth of checkered tiles that was the EEOB and headed for the auditorium where the event would take place.
Then we started waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We were told there was a special surprise or two in store, and we began to be posed for a photo. The photo, though, kept getting delayed. Unbeknownst to us, the reason for the delay, I would find out later, was that the President, our “surprise” guest, was delayed because he needed to speak to the press regarding the Senate rules change that had just taken place. But we were to delay for the President, because he really wanted to attend and visit with us.
No problem. I didn’t mind waiting for the President. Not one bit. While we waited, our picture was taken with Gene Sperling. And Valerie Jarrett came by to say hello. And the nerves built up. Lots of them.
Eventually, he did arrive, and we began. The opening of the event looked like this:
When the President came on stage, the first thought in my head was that the fellow on stage really looked like the President – but it couldn’t actually BE him. My brain had not yet processed that this was, in fact, the President. Of course it was. We were invited up to the stage to shake hands. I did my best to remain calm, as you’ll see in the video. But what you won’t see is that it took a great deal of work on my part to not jump the stage to shake his hand. I’m pretty proud of myself that I waited patiently, so patiently, as my heart beat a hole in my chest. I calmly, and firmly, shook the President’s hand and introduced myself. I remember distinctly that it was a perfect handshake – good hand placement, and firm squeeze and appropriate amount of pump. My father would have been so proud.
And then we moved into the rest of the event, with each of us taking a turn on stage in a panel conversation about education and technology. For the next two hours, I was alternatively pinching myself about what I was experiencing while also wishing for a more substantive conversation. That’s not a dig on the event, which was perfect, it was just my desire, in the middle of a group of educators who are on their game, to get into the weeds a bit and go deeper than surface level conversations about our work. I took some notes about what I wish we had talked about, and a couple of points that I’ll expand upon in a future post.
At the end of the event, the crowd cleared pretty quickly. I said hello to a couple of folks I knew who were in the room, and met a few more. Then the auditorium was empty and it was time to leave. With a deep breath, I stepped out of the EEOB, returned my visitor’s pass, and went through the gate.
The evening was a trip to the Lincoln Memorial. We had promised Ani, my oldest daughter, that we would try to take a picture of it for her if we could. And boy, did we.
After the visit, we stepped into a gift shop or two to find the right souvenirs for our daughters. Of course, the souvenir I want them most to remember and share is perhaps this one:
Or, better yet, this:
The perfect end to a magical experience was dinner after with Tiffany. We enjoyed a great meal, but more important, time to talk through and decompress on the day that had just happened. As I mentioned, I’m still processing and will share my thoughts here as I can compile them.
What an honor to represent all of my teachers and colleagues and the folks who helped me to become who I am at the White House. I stood with the President not for what I have accomplished, but because of what they have done with and for and through me. Thank you to all the folks who made this such an experience, and a special thank you to all of you who might read this who have been my teachers. You did your jobs well, and I am forever better because of you. I’ll have more to say about being grateful in another post, but know that I am, indeed, grateful. I hope that my daughters have teachers like you to guide them and help them discover and chase after their dreams.
Many of the pictures I’ve shared here, as well as several more, are now online in a Flickr set, if you’ve an interest in seeing them.
- You can see much of what we saw here on the White House’s interactive tour website. [↩]
- I wasn’t familiar with that location, but did remember the frequent references to the OEOB from the West Wing. Turns out that the building was renamed by President George W. Bush. Same place. My inner TV geek was elated. [↩]