I visited the White House on Thursday to hear President Barack Obama speak about his decision to give waivers to 10 states under the No Child Left Behind law. The waivers allow these states to follow their own educational strategies. Here is a walkthrough of the hour or so I spent on the grounds.
I felt awkward as I stared through the glass (most likely bulletproof) at the White House guard station. The lady behind the desk looked at me looking at her and said something – I’m not sure what.
I think I assumed that she had asked for my driver’s license as my guide and fellow reporter, Michael Collins, had told me she would. So, I pushed my license into the tray and proceeded to cross my fingers. I was right. The approval to enter slid back across the tray in the form of a small red badge with the word PRESS written in a small white box on the badge.
Entrance achieved! . . . almost. As I ought to have foreseen, there was one final safety precaution – the metal detector. After a moment’s hesitation (not sure why) I proceeded to look awkward as I wrestled off my coat and emptied my pockets into another tray.
We made it through security a bit before we needed to line up for the speech, so we took a seat in the press briefing room. It is small and quite blue. The carpet, podium backdrop and even the chairs are all blue. To be honest, I was a bit surprised about how small the room itself is. On TV it looks so much bigger.
Finally, the time had come to move to the East Room where we would be watching the president present. The walk from the press briefing room to the East Room was short, but outside.
Now in the actual room there was, of course, more waiting. In the spare time I asked Michael to snap a quick shot of me before Obama walked in. Everyone in the room was standing and talking with each other, so the picture wasn’t that great, but it gets the point across. I was in the East Room.
Another few minutes of standing around waiting soon ended in complete silence. The time had come for POTUS to walk in. Everyone stared at the podium – presumably waiting on him to rise up from below stage. Instead, he walked through the door on stage left.
As he spoke to the crowd I watched the teleprompter and noted the changes he would make along the way. Rather than using the prompter’s “need” in a couple places he inserted “we’ve got to.” In other places, he addressed specific groups in the audience without the prompter. It was interesting to see how he made the speech his own, even though it was written ahead of time.
He finished with some commendations to school superintendants and state education officials in the audience and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was standing next to him. With a final thank you, he was gone. In and out.
All in all the speech took about 10 minutes, but who was paying attention to the time.
As this post probably shows, I am still a bit scatterbrained from the entire experience. However, I can say one thing. Regardless of which party you belong to, or even your involvement in the political arena – being in the same room (not the mention the White House) with the president is an absolute thrill.