It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
That was the general consensus of the 10 girls from who were chosen to attend a mentoring dinner hosted by Michelle Obama at the White House last week.
“I like that it was a night honoring women. You always hear about successful businessmen like Bill Gates and I think it was good to have a night that was honoring [successful] women,” said junior Chakiera Shields.
While the reason North County was one of the schools chosen to send representatives to the first lady’s Women’s History Month dinner isn’t clear, the girls were chosen for the leadership positions they hold in the school, said Renee Stout, site coordinator for North County’s AVID and Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) programs. AVID is a countywide college-preparation initiative targeting students with mid-range academic performance. Five 12th-grade AVID students and five 11th-grade STEM students were chosen.
“They were chosen because they’re leaders and strong role models [in the school],” she said. “They have great attendance, they take AP classes, most are athletes—and if not, they’re involved in their community. They’re just strong girls.”
Principal William Heiser was informed March 24 that his students were invited to the March 30 mentoring dinner, where girls were seated at tables with 20 successful women in varying fields. A few days later, Stout hand-selected the 10 students would who represent North County.
“I thought it was a joke,” said junior Carrie Miskill of her reaction when she found out she would be going to the White House.
Stout said she met with the girls to teach them proper etiquette for a dinner with the first lady.
“They’re all such strong girls and very respectful…but this was one of the first times that most of them have been to a formal dinner,” she said. “It’s very different.”
But the girls said all the mentors, which included women such as Olympic gold medalist and Maryland native Dominique Dawes and Grammy-nominated singer Ledisi, were so down-to-earth that the etiquette lessons almost didn’t matter.
“[Actress] Kerry Washington had her elbows on the table,” senior Jasmine Washington said. “I had to remember not to put mine on the table.”
The students all said they appreciated how the mentors, who shared their stories and struggles endured to get to where they are now, not only showed interest in learning about the girls seated at their dinner tables, but inspired them to be better women.
Jasmine Washington said she was seated at a table with Nancy Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
“She told us how she started with $200 to save her sister’s life and is not a millionaire. It inspired me to help someone that you really care about,” she said.
Nearly a week later, all 10 girls were still filled with excitement about their first trip to the White House. And meeting Michelle Obama?
“You got to hug her at the end,” junior Krystin Elliot said.
“She was like the nicest lady you’ve ever met,” said senior Jessica Jones.
“Even if you wanted to give her a handshake, she gave us all a hug,” said junior Courtney Hodges.
The girls said the dinner inspired all of them and reminded them to never give up in the face of adversity and work hard to achieve their goals.
“And always help the person behind you,” Miskill said.
Editor's note: This article was updated with photos courtesy of Courtney Hodges.