“All races, All creeds; Same dreams, Same needs” reads the Student Government Association (SGA) banner on the wall of the Annandale High School (AHS) gymnasium where First Lady Michelle Obama and Madam Kim Yoon-ok, wife of the president of the Republic of Korea, visited last week.
The occasion was a cultural event planned by the White House and AHS to highlight the educational opportunities and broad diversity available at Annandale, one of the most diverse public high schools in the nation. AHS is outside of the News-Press readership area, but I was thrilled that Mrs. Obama decided to visit another part of Mason District, and that I was invited to attend.
Annandale students occupied one entire side of the bleachers in the gym, providing a colorful backdrop for the First Lady’s speech and response by Madam Kim. A performance area in the middle of the gym was cordoned off by low curtains in the Annandale Atoms’ traditional bright red color, where a small stage elevated performers and guest speakers. Faculty and special guests sat in folding chairs on the gym floor, and the opposite side of the gym held a phalanx of television cameras and still photographers, ready to record the historic visit of two First Ladies. Mrs. Obama and Madam Kim entered the gym with several Student Ambassadors, and quickly took their seats on folding chairs in the front row.
Performers included the World Childrens’ Choir, African folk dances by three beautiful Annandale students, and violin virtuoso Jennifer Koh, who captivated all with a soaring mastery of her instrument. Although a few students seemed to nod off during the long composition, they showed their appreciation at the end with foot-stomping that shook the rafters. Mrs. Obama showed rapt attention to every performer and seemed to enjoy it all.
In her remarks, Mrs. Obama explained to the students the importance of the special bond between the United States and Korea, and highlighted that education was the reason she and Madame Kim were visiting Annandale. She noted that education is more than learning geometry or memorizing historic dates. “Education also is about exploring new things – discovering what makes you come alive….” She urged students to discover something that they love to do, to work hard at it, and to make investments in it. She also noted that a little nudge from a parent or teacher now and then was OK; they all want the best for their students. Turning to the assembled students, Mrs. Obama reminded them to work hard and, with a little chuckle, to stay out of trouble, which brought scattered laughter from the crowd.
Madam Kim, speaking in Korean, noted that a positive mind and courage lead to success. Commenting on her husband’s rise from poverty to power, she said that “hope is always there, even when you can see only despair.” I’m sure that neither Mrs. Obama nor Madam Kim were aware of the SGA banner high above their heads, but their remarks highlighted perfectly the theme embodied there, and the philosophy that powers the students, faculty, staff, and families who attend and support the outstanding educational opportunities at Annandale High School.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]