Commentary

Vijay Dey: Finally, I got to shake the president’s hand!

August 13, 2013 

Vijay Dey

As President Barack Obama slowly walked around, stopping at each table, I sat there, sweating in anticipation. I wiped my sweaty hands against my suit, and took a deep breath. Every second seemed like a year.

About two months ago, I entered Healthy Lunchtime Challenge sponsored by Epicurious and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. Kids between the ages of 8 and 12 nationwide are challenged to make a wholesome and delicious recipe. The winners would be able to go to the White House! The spring rolls recipe I entered the contest with was chosen as the winning recipe for the state of North Carolina, and I was invited to a Kids’ State dinner at the White House!

It was July 9, the day of the White House visit. When we got to the White House, we went through extensive security checks. First, a canine sniffed our bus to make sure that there were no explosives, and then all the adults had to get their IDs checked against the guest list. Lastly we had to walk in front of a scanner to verify that we had no dangerous articles on us.

As we walked through the White House, we could see many artifacts from previous presidents. Also, we saw many well-known rooms: the Red, Blue, and Green Rooms, the East Room, and the State Dining Room, where state dinners are held for visiting heads of state on state visits.

After a while, we were called into the East Room. I was thrilled to find that my spring rolls were actually going to be served! After eating appetizers and the main meal, first lady Michelle Obama walked to the podium, and said that we were going to meet a person very close to her. After a couple of seconds, we understood what she meant, and started cheering. The president was coming!

After President Obama walked into the room, we gave him a standing ovation. The thing I remember most about his speech was his sense of humor: “Usually, at a state dinner, I get invited, so I don’t know what happened on this one.”

Before the president had entered, the first lady told us that it was fine to eat with our hands. Later in his speech, the president said: “Michelle never said to me I can just pick up something with my fingers at a State Dinner. That’s not fair!” Then, he slowly moved to each table, shaking each person’s hand, and sporting a brief conversation.

When the president finally reached our table, I somehow settled into a very calm demeanor. I shook his hand, and asked him how he was. He was very polite. “Can you sign an autograph for me?” I asked. “I’m afraid I can’t,” the president said, “else I have to sign for everyone else.” Although I was disappointed, I understood. After a few seconds, he had to move on to the next person. The whole moment seemed so surreal!

The four-hour White House visit quickly came to an end. It was a great honor and privilege to meet the president and the first lady. I will never forget my White House visit.

On our way home, our flight was delayed and I had no choice but to eat a burger at the airport. Although I had to eat fast food, the healthy food I ate during the contest must have balanced it out!

Vijay Dey is a resident of Chapel Hill.

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