By Adam Meyers, a student majoring in Political Science and Non-Profit Community Leadership.
I decided to write a letter each day of Lent to someone that had changed my life…
During my freshman year of college, I started to participate in what Christians know as “Lent”. I had never done this before, but I wanted to give something up or do something for someone. For my first Lent Season, I decided to give up meat. I did this mostly for myself, because I felt that it would be beneficial for my health and I was still giving up something that I love.
However, my sophomore year I decided to give back to the people that had also given to me. I decided to write a letter each day of Lent to someone that had changed my life. This may seem easy, but it was actually quite challenging. Think about it! I had to come up with forty different people and write to them about how they changed my life!
Obviously, I wrote to people such as family, friends, and mentors that had all changed my life or at least shaped the person I am today. There is no doubt that many people would write such letters to the same type of people. However, I decided to also write to historical figures that have influenced my life such as Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Derek Jeter to name a few.
I also had to think to myself, “Why am I studying Political Science and Non-Profit Community Leadership?” Well, the answer is because during my senior year of high school I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I felt that I was a leader and was really good at listening to people and their ideas. The 2012 Obama Campaign was very inspiring to me and I really enjoyed reading about him and watching him run for a second term in office. This undoubtedly sparked my interest in Political Science. I also read about his upbringing and the non-profit work he did on the South Side of Chicago and it reminded me of my work at a local Boys and Girls Club. And that is why I am now studying the two majors I mentioned earlier.
With this being said, I thought it was very appropriate to write President Obama a letter since it seems that he has changed or inspired my life. I truly never thought it would go anywhere. In fact, I told people that it was the principle of the idea and that I never expected him to read it. A couple of months later I received a standard letter from The White House that said something along the lines of, “Thanks for the letter, Adam.” If someone had told me that I would have gotten to meet him two months later, I would have told him or her to get lost!
In early July word came out that President Obama was coming to La Crosse, WI, which is roughly where I grew up. He was going to be giving a speech at the University of La Crosse about the overall economy. I really wanted to watch him speak, so I took a vacation day at my job the day he was expected to speak.
Two days before he came to La Crosse I received a phone call from Washington D.C. I chose not to answer, because I was at work and I assumed it was a telemarketer or someone that I really did not want to talk to. After listening to voicemails, I found out that it was the White House trying to contact me, and they wanted me to go to an event with the President when he came to La Crosse! I remember the person that I talked to said, “Many people, including President Obama, were inspired by your letter at the White House and we would like you to go to an event with him.”
I truly could not believe it. Even though they had not given me specific details as to what the “event” would be, I was shocked that something I had such small expectations for ended up being of significant importance. I must admit, the White House was very secretive about giving me details for where I needed to be on the day that he was coming. I guessed that this was for security purposes, which makes sense. Anyway, the night before his visit I was finally briefed as to where I should be and at what time.
On the day of his visit I followed all the instructions I was given and was lead to this room containing about thirty chairs. All the chairs had names on them, some of which I recognized such as politicians and business owners. There were also names I did not recognize (I later found out that these were friends of politicians), but I definitely recognized my own name when I found it and I could definitely feel the excitement kick in. The thirty people in the room had about an hour to talk to each other and discuss their stories. This really reminded me of a classy social event, which was way beyond anything I had ever experienced.
After the “social event” the President of the United States was finally in the building. All of us in the room received the chance to talk to him separately for about 3 minutes and get a professional picture taken with him. People always ask me what it was like or what we talked about. Honestly, it was such a surreal experience, and it is really hard to come up with an answer to that question. I do like to mention to people that it is amazing how you hear his voice and see him on the television all of the time, but then to actually see him in person is extremely humbling. I almost felt like I wasn’t even in control of my own body when I shook his hand. By the way, his hands were very soft; I guess he hasn’t done much farm work! Then to top it off, I even had a reserved seat in the second row when he gave his actual speech on campus.
Simple one page letters that I wrote to people ended up giving me one of the coolest opportunities that I have experienced in my twenty brief years of life. I truly never thought that I would get to meet the most powerful person in the free world, but I did. Not only did I meet him, but also I got to have a conversation with him. I don’t know if this was fate or that I just got extremely lucky, and honestly, I hope I never find out the answer.