The First Lady's Last White House Christmas
December 29, 2016
After missing two days of school, I am on a plane, going back to LA, and coming from an unforgettable experience. My name is Emilien Sahli, and Michelle Obama said hello to me. I should explain…
On the last day of Thanksgiving break my dad called me into his office, and told me that we had an opportunity to meet with Michelle Obama in Washington DC, and that we were leaving the next day.
Kidscoop Media, a group that takes kid journalists to interview and report on famous people, chose me to see the Christmas decorations and Michelle Obama at the White House. After that great news, we rushed to the store to buy a suit and cold weather clothing.
I went to school the next day trying not to brag. That night we packed and went to the airport to leave for DC. We flew all night, arrived exactly on time, ordered a Lyft and headed for the hotel to drop off our bags.
We met Michelle Mayans, the head of Kid Scoop Media, and two other kid reporters at a coffee shop right across from The White House. We crossed the street and there it was in all its glory. We walked through security, and there we were at the White House!
After entering the White House Briefing room the officials called some of us kids to try out a new app onstage, which in fact wasn't released to the public until the next day (Thursday, December 1st). The app featured AR (augmented reality) where when you look at a dollar bill using your phone’s camera, and a little White House builds itself on top of the dollar bill.
It is meant to show kids what the White House goes through in a year, through every season, and talks about its history. If you want to download the app, it's free, just go to “1600” from The White House Historical Association.
Tour of the White House
Next, we toured the White House to look at all of the beautiful Christmas decorations. We walked to the entrance of the House and saw that it was trimmed in red baubles and ribbon, with a giant red present that represented the theme this year, “The Gift of The Holidays”.
We entered into a the wooden entrance room that smelled like Christmas trees. At the end of this room we could see massive replicas of Bo and Sunny, the First Family’s dogs, guarding a large tree with presents all over it. Next was the East Colonnade, where on the ceiling there were red, white, and blue streamers hanging from the ceiling that were waving in the slight indoor breeze and were lit in alternating colors. They had glittering ornaments between the streamers.
Walking further in, we came across a room with a tree with iPads positioned around it. These iPads could be used to send holiday well-wishes to the troops! This represents The Gift of Service.
On the walls were copies of every Christmas postcard the past First Families had sent since President Nixon. Next were three rooms, the Library, the China Room, and the Vermeil Room. They were all connected by a large hall, which was turned into a winter wonderland by featuring snowmen and glistening snow and a huge crystal snow arch. The three rooms all had trees but the ornaments on the trees are what really matter.
The China Room’s ornaments represent past residences of the White House: the tree featured 36 ornaments from the White House Historical Association. The Vermeil Room ornaments are covered in pastels, “ballerina” pink and pearl garlands festoon the tree, adding some nice Christmas flair to the room. This all draws from the portraits of former First Ladies on the walls.
The most important and coolest of these rooms (at least in my opinion) is the Library, which fittingly is the setting for “The Gift of Education”. With the walls lined with over 2,700 books, with three different trees in this room, a traditional tree, with the word Girls in 12 languages, and two smaller trees, one made out of pencils and the other out of green crayons, with the words ‘Let Girls Learn’ underneath them. This of course to pay homage to Michelle Obama's initiative, “Let Girls Learn”.
We went up a grand staircase and immediately heard piano music. We entered a large room with an even larger tree with mirrors all over it and shiny, reflective presents. This showed “The Gift of Reflection”.
There was a man playing a piano. Just behind us was the front of the White house with its doors wide open, and just down the steps was a lady at a table, with warm cider and cookies (both were delicious) for the press and other visitors.
From this room we saw five rooms a little view of the massive official White House Christmas tree, but we’ll get to that later. First I’ll talk about the Green and Red Rooms. These both represent “The Gift of Good Health” inspired by First Lady Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. They each feature large trees with things like bees and fruits, in the Red Room there are wreaths and garlands made of red fruits and in the Green Room there are wreaths and garlands made of green fruits to represent good, healthy, eating.
Next, was one of the most impressive rooms, the State Dining Room. This was the setting where Michelle Obama, later in the visit, would be decorating cookies with kids of military families. For now, what we could see were two more large trees decorated with LEGO houses representing all 56 states and territories of the USA.
They were all beautiful, the most notable ones were, if memory serves, Hawaii, with a raised wooden Tiki shack, and Californian house, drawing off of all the SoCal pride, was a house straight out of Malibu: a modern, all white house featuring a pool and diving board. It conveyed its theme, “The Gift of Family and Friends” perfectly. With the massive White House gingerbread house, the edible gumdrop wreaths and the smiling LEGO gingerbread men, I felt right at home.
The opposite side of this is the East room, which was cordoned off. This is where Michelle would give later her speech. This room had traditional holiday decor with nutcrackers, wreaths and wood. Now, the middle room, the Blue Room, holds the huge, 19 foot white house tree. It barely fits into the room itself! There was a garland with the preamble to the Constitution of the United States:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
It also featured ornaments from all over the USA, donated from citizens and military service men and women overseas and in the US.
Brief Press Briefing
We met at the steps and headed back to the briefing room, where all of the journalists were frantically getting ready for Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary, who was ready to make the daily official press briefing.
The press asked questions such as: “Does President-Elect Trump have the skills to achieve everything he says he will do as President?” and “What does he think President Obama’s legacy will be?” We had to leave early to go see Michelle Obama, though! My dad and I rushed back to the East room just in time to get ready to see her.
Meeting First Lady Michelle Obama
The First Lady was introduced by Hazel Bethel, an immigrant and veteran. She came out to loud applause from everyone, especially from me. Michelle Obama is my idol and I respect her the most out of anyone alive except for maybe Beyoncé or Malala. So when I saw her I did actually cry, out of happiness, and also sadness that she'd be gone and would be replaced by the Grinch and his wife.
She came out in a new haircut too, which was beautiful. When she spoke, it was like how red velvet feels, it took all pain and anxiety and stress away and I was just lost in awe.
Before I knew it, she had thanked everyone and introduced the military families and we were off to the State Dining room to see the children decorate Christmas cookies. We (the Kidscoop Media squad) were the first press in the room and we got the best view in the house, right next to the entrance.
And then my heart stopped. Michelle Obama came out of the door and we were in within arms distance from each other, we made eye contact and she said ‘hi’ to me. I was star struck, the person that I had praised and wanted to meet since I was in sixth grade had just said hello to me. My voice was just a whisper as I said ‘hi’ back.
My patriotism, which had been dwindling since the election, grew three sizes. And just as fast as it had happened, she was already in the event helping kids decorate their cookies.
I won't lie, I did feel a bit of jealousy that was vanquished when I remembered that these kids might have lost brothers, sisters, moms or dads to war. Pretty soon, Bo and Sunny were out and about, being petted and just being the best dogs ever.
And then it was over. Michelle left, the camera crews started packing up, and we went to the briefing room, and all freaked out about what had just happened. We then noticed how tired we all were. So we headed out back to the hotel and slept. A long sleep was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
This opportunity was the biggest moment of my life, all 14 years. It was so great and I would just like to thank everybody that made this happen, Michelle Mayans from Kidscoop Media, my dad, and everyone that got me into the White House - got me within arms distance from my idol.
This experience has changed me forever and I will never forget it. And I hope that First Lady Michelle Obama knows how she's changed my life.
-Emilien Sahli, grade 9, CCHS, son of Councilmember Meghan Sahli-Wells