Eighty local students made the trip of a lifetime this month—though the destination was under 30 miles away from Centreville.
At the invitation of the White House, Colin Powell Elementary and Centreville High School students attended a ceremony on the South Lawn on Oct. 13th to greet the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, during his visit to the United States.
The day was rainy and cloudy, but the students didn't mind, said Colin Powell principal Linda Clifford. The experience of visiting the White House in person, and seeing two presidents up close, was something that overwhelmed all other considerations.
"Even though they were drenched in water, they were happy," said Jean No, a CVHS counselor and sponsor of the Korean Club.
The students from both schools left Centreville around 6 a.m. in order to get to the White House by 7 a.m. Everyone then proceeded to go through three separate security checkpoints. Then, they waited for the ceremony to start.
Because the lawn was so wet and it was drizzling outside, staff then made an announcement that the ceremony would take place inside the White House. A couple thousand people went home. All of the students stayed though, after having made the drive out and gotten their hopes up.
Fortunately, the staff reconsidered. The students from Centreville High stood behind South Korean delegates, who asked them questions in Korean. Everyone was fascinated with the military displays, while they waited, too. Myung-bak and Obama both made speeches during the event, and the students caught sight of Michelle Obama and the first lady of South Korea, Kim Yoon-ok.
Most of the CVHS students were Korean-Americans and some were also members of the school's Korean Club.
"I've never been to Korea, so seeing a part of Korea come to America was a great honor," said Ji Yun Lee, a Centreville student.
No said that the trip was about much more than just a trip to the White House: it was a chance for the students to learn about their heritage.
"I wanted to give them an opportunity to be proud of where they came from," said No.
Some students said they also learned about the close ties between their native (and in some cases, adopted) country and the country of their ancestors.
"I didn't realize before how close allegiances were between South Korea and the U.S.," said Sunjoo Lee, a CVHS student.
The fact that Obama spoke partially in Korean, and like he was speaking to a friend, "that means a lot," said Ji Yun Lee.
But for most students, the most exciting part of the day was getting to shake hands with Obama and Myung-bak.
"They were just beside themselves," said Clifford, of her first graders' reactions. There were a lot of kids saying 'I'm never going to wash this hand,' and 'this hand was touched by the president,' she said.
And the day was something that people are still talking about at both schools.
"It was the experience of a lifetime," said CVHS principal Michael Campbell—a sentiment Clifford echoed.
"It was rainy, wet, cold, but I'm sure every one of them would do it again," she said.