Reflections on President Obama’s Visit to Valencia

A Message from Kathleen Plinske, President, Osceola & Lake Nona Campuses

obama-speech-groveWhile it was truly an honor to meet President Obama when he visited Valencia on Thursday, March 20, 2014, it was perhaps even more enjoyable to observe how thrilled our students were to watch him speak and to shake his hand.

Early Monday morning, I was asked to nominate a list of five to seven students from the Osceola and Lake Nona Campuses who would potentially receive an invitation to attend President Obama’s speech. I submitted a list of 12 of our “rock stars,” including officers of our Student Government Association, several of our student leaders, as well as outstanding students in REACH, honors and dual enrollment. However, I was not yet allowed to share the news with the students that President Obama was planning to visit.

alex-castro-270wOne of the students I nominated was Alexandrea Castro, a REACH student who is in her second year at the Osceola Campus. On Monday morning, I saw Alex in the hallway, and I said to her that if she receives an invitation for an event scheduled for Thursday, she really should try to go. Alex asked me what time the event would be held, and I told her that it would likely be in the early afternoon. She replied that she wouldn’t be able to attend as she had class at that time, to which I countered that I’d write her a note to excuse her from class. When she asked me what the event was, I told her that I couldn’t tell her, but that it was an opportunity to meet someone who was pretty famous.

I got the news on Tuesday that Alex was selected to receive a ticket to attend the event, and I wanted to tell her in person. I walked into her biology classroom (during a break of course), and when she saw me, she immediately said, “Dr. Plinske! I’m going to the event on Thursday!” I mistakenly assumed that somehow she found out from someone else that she was invited to attend President Obama’s speech, so I handed her the instruction sheet on how to pick up her ticket for the event. Alex went on to explain that since I told her the event was so important, she had already spoken with her instructor about making up the lab that she would miss on Thursday and that she was looking forward to attending. She then asked, “Can you tell me now what it is that I’m going to attend?”

I was dumbfounded. Alex had taken all the steps necessary to prepare to attend this “mystery event” that I had mentioned to her the day before without knowing what was in store. I responded, “Alex, now I’m not kidding around. You’ve been invited to attend a presentation by President Obama.”

Alex remained expressionless for a few seconds. I suspect she was judging whether or not I was telling her the truth. However, when it sunk in that she would have the opportunity to be in the same room with the President of the United States, tears of joy began to flow.

obama-handshake-270wDuring the event on Thursday, I was delighted to see Alex sitting in the front row of the audience and was absolutely thrilled when President Obama walked over to her to shake her hand. She later texted me this photo and shared with me her joy and disbelief that she actually got to shake hands with the President of the United States.

After President Obama’s presentation, I overheard several of the students on stage with me commenting that they found the experience to be so very inspiring, and that they were motivated to strive to earn an A in each of their classes this term and not “settle” for a B.

Seven students from the Osceola and Lake Nona Campuses had the opportunity to attend President Obama’s presentation in person, including: Ariane Dicarlo (president, Osceola SGA), Tyler Persons (president, Lake Nona SGA), David Guacaneme (incoming president, Osceola SGA), JuliAnn Immordino (incoming president, Lake Nona SGA), José Abastida (Past President, Osceola SGA), Jonathan Guacaneme (Osceola Honors Student) and Alexandrea Castro (Osceola REACH student).

While President Obama’s visit was certainly a momentous occasion for Valencia, I think it is safe to say that it was a life-changing experience for our students who had the privilege to attend.

If you missed the presentation on Thursday and would like to view President Obama’s presentation in its entirety, you may do so on the official website of the White House.

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