A week to shape a lifetime

| 29 Sep 2011 | 09:10

    Washington - I first stepped foot into the Nation’s Capitol two weeks ago, attending the American Legion-sponsored “Boys Nation” program, representing Pennsylvania alongside my friend and fellow delegate, Eric Neumann - also a Delaware Valley junior. We came for a week of a mock-senate, party conventions, lectures from prominent Boys Nation Alumni, tours to famous areas of Washington, and finally, last Friday, a visit to the White House. Early Friday afternoon we lined up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, ready for our meeting with President Bush. And yes, I still find it hard to believe I can say that. Seeing the White House for the first time was incredible - knowing that within twenty minutes I would be inside is indescribable. There were men dressed in black stationed atop the White House who greeted us. A few more of the same type were around us, some busy talking into their sleeves. A couple of minutes elapsed, and then suddenly I was face to face with a Secret Service agent who asked my name, crossed it off a list and permitted me entry. The feeling was surreal. I distinctly remember my first step inside. I looked at a portrait, which was of Woodrow Wilson, the great great grandfather of one the boys in our group. We traveled through several corridors and up some stairs. Once we emerged from the stairwell, the rooms, only familiar to me from pictures, came alive. We toured through several, and finally walked through the State Dining Room and into the East Room. I was actually standing in the White House, knowing that I stood where past presidents have too, especially in a room that hosted receptions for heads of state, important press conferences, like the one less than an hour before my arrival and welcomed famous people from across the world. Almost immediately, delegates began strategizing the best place to stand - hoping for that sought-after handshake. The girl in front of me was one exception; she just complained how much she disliked Bush. And there I was, about to meet the most powerful man on Earth, standing amidst the future world leaders; one of whom as Clinton had, might go on to occupy this house. The President’s entrance wasn’t as grand as I had imagined. He was a bit shorter and a lot broader too. He only has existed on my television for the past six years. He simply walked up to us to be photographed. He is a very down to Earth guy. But then a surprise came into the quiet room. A Secret Service agent opened a door and flood of press corps photographers appeared, launched a blizzard of photo flashes in less than 30 seconds, and disappeared. But one thing remained predictable and constant, Bush’s posture and voice. Ironically, he had a slight lean to the right, and his right hand extended and curved when he tried to emphasize a point. He fielded about six questions from us in our 45-minute meeting, one of which I was chosen to ask. Before I left on my trip, my grandma jokingly told me to ask the President what he is doing to make health care more affordable for seniors- so I did. His answer is all a blur. All I remember is whispering to the boy next to me, “I can’t believe this is happening.” In a blink of an eye my rendezvous with the leader of the free world concluded. I was at the south exit of the White House, dwarfed by the gigantic columns anxious to call grandma, and tell her about an experience I will never forget.