Essay by Jacqueline Uy
Back in elementary school, there was always that one kid who, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, would say, “I want to be president.” That kid was me.
But as I got older I realized that what I really wanted to become was a journalist, specifically a foreign correspondent. Even with this, I never really thought that I would ever step foot in the White House, much less meet first lady Michelle Obama. So when the opportunity to do both arose, I reacted like any normal 16-year-old in my situation: I didn’t believe it.
In the months of preparation for WriteGirl’s trip to Washington, D.C., Keren and my mentor, Katie, guided me on what to expect and helped me develop my thoughts so that I would be coherent and composed when it came time to shake the first lady’s hand and then speak to reporters. Through all of that, I was in disbelief and kept expecting the worst to happen, like someone was about to jump out of a corner and say that it was all a joke.
I even waited until the last hour to pack because I expected Keren to call saying that the flight had been cancelled or that they had made a mistake in choosing me out of the 300 mentees in the WriteGirl program. The call never came, but still, this didn’t seem real. Not during the plane ride or as we were touring the grand streets of D.C. Not during the reception dinners or as I shook hands with the other award winners. But as we walked the cobbled path leading to the White House, I reflected on my second-grade class years before. And even though I no longer aspired to become president, I realized this day was monumental.
Here I was in a city where ruby red leaves fell from the trees, that breathed life into my history textbooks as I visited every site from the Lincoln Memorial to the Supreme Court, where everyone walked around in suits and carried business cards. How many of the millions of people living in the United States can actually say they have marveled at hundred-year-old portraits of presidents, or that they sat on furniture that probably had a lot more history than the jelly-stained couch back home? I was here to meet the first lady.
I sat there wringing my fingers and wiping my sweaty palms on my burgundy skirt. Yet, I thought about how lucky I was to be given this opportunity to represent a program that has helped me achieve not only a passion for writing, but also a confidence that can’t be developed from a schoolroom where everyone is in constant competition for the top grade.
Through WriteGirl, I learned that if I set my mind to something, the outcome may not always be perfect, but it is something that I can be proud of. During workshops, sometimes I’d start out with an idea that grew into something wildly different. WriteGirl has taught me to embrace that change, that uniqueness only I held. I’ve had a whole group of people supporting me, believing in me. I knew I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, let them down.
So when WriteGirl was finally called to the stage, I walked shakily to Mrs. Obama, embraced her in a tight hug, and gazed at her through watery eyes. She looked at me and said, “Keep writing.” And while I was at a loss for words at that moment, I knew I would follow her advice because my story began when I stepped on that stage.
Jacqueline Cablas Uy is now the news editor for her student newspaper at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies. She is also a media intern at her community center and a published author in WriteGirl's anthology. She plans to attend a four-year university to study journalism and international relations.