The Day I Saw President Obama

I am a strong believer in the power of persistence. If I really want to achieve something, I will rarely take ‘no’ for an answer. My latest example of this is that I have finally booked my dream holiday to Las Vegas for my 21st birthday. However, I think my best example of this happened nearly exactly two years ago, when I was invited to attend President Barack Obama’s address in Australia’s Parliament House. I am unashamedly sentimental and that day certainly goes down as one of the most memorable in my entire life. It took a lot of persistence to get there, so I thought I would share a little bit about it here. I just cannot believe it happened two years ago already!

Some of my Obama collection
Some of my Obama collection

This story really starts back in 2008. I was in Year 10 at the time and was studying the Kennedy brothers at school. I became incredibly inspired by them and it sparked an avid interest in American politics for me. It just so happened that Barack Obama was running for President at the same time. Naturally, I was very interested in learning more about him and quickly became a huge supporter. Then, in 2010, it was announced that he would be visiting Canberra, Australia. I was absolutely elated! I immediately began hatching plans to fly down and see him, despite being extremely busy in my final year of high school. I was willing to do whatever it took. However, his trip was cancelled and I was devastated. It was rescheduled later in 2010, but it was cancelled yet again. Then, it was rescheduled again for November 2011. “Third time lucky,” I thought and I became absolutely determined to see him.

I spent hours upon hours researching as much as I could about his planned itinerary. Initially, I was happy just to fly down to Canberra and catch a glimpse of him in his motorcade. However, there were quickly rumours that he was going to give an address in Parliament House on 17 November 2011 and each federal politician would be given a ticket to give to the public. Needless to say, I immediately put all of my energy into getting my hands on one of those tickets. I contacted the Federal member of my area through a university friend, who advised he was giving his ticket to his mother. I then individually emailed every single senator in Queensland, basically begging them for a ticket. I received many phone calls and emails from the staff of a number of senators, telling me that there were no such tickets and that they had no idea where I got this idea. Others told me that they were giving their ticket to family members. Some senators were more cooperative and forwarded my request to the Prime Minister’s office. However, with only weeks until President Obama’s address, I still did not have a ticket. Even so, I booked airfare tickets down to Canberra for me and my dad, refusing to give up on the idea that I would see him.

My ticket to see President Obama
My ticket to see President Obama

Then, on 8 November 2011, I received an email from the office of Senator Claire Moore. It stated that she would like to offer me a ticket as her guest to sit in the gallery in Parliament House while President Obama gave his address! I have never, ever been so excited to receive an email in my entire life. I could not believe my luck! On 15 November, my dad and I flew down to Canberra. On 16 November, I picked up my ticket from Senator Moore in person at Parliament House. I will be forever grateful to her for making it all possible. President Obama arrived in Canberra on the same day. My dad and I literally ran to see his motorcade (after some staff at the Australian Federal Police gave us the wrong street information!) and we saw him pass quickly in his car, while we stood in front of Secret Service agents. That was incredibly exciting in itself, but the best was yet to follow.

Image from the Washington Post: Me in the front row, fourth from the right
Photo from the Washington Post:
Me in the front row, fourth from the right

Early in the morning of 17 November, after being too excited to sleep properly the night before, I made my way to Parliament House for the address. I had to meet in a specific place with many Australian politicians and board a luxury coach into a secured, undercover area of Parliament House. From there, we were ushered through several levels of security, not being allowed to take anything with us. Then I was able to take my seat in the gallery of the House of Representatives. I actually got a seat in the front row – I had a better seat than past Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard! Everyone who was anyone in Australian politics was there. I was surrounded by many past politicians, state politicians, husbands and wives of politicians and CEOs of big businesses. The minutes seemed to pass so slowly until President Obama entered the room at around 9am. When he did, I was truly in a state of disbelief. To see an idol in real life is an unexplainably surreal feeling – especially when it is someone who is so powerful and has such heavy security. I sat in absolute awe, merely metres away from President Obama, listening to his fantastic address about Australian and American relations for an hour. He then left the room and I boarded my flight back home later that evening.┬áIt was a whirlwind trip to Canberra for an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Now, anytime I question whether I have the ability to do something, I remember that I was able to persist enough to sit in the same room as the President of the United States… So, anything seems possible!

Official Whitehouse Photo: President Obama to the left and me in the end of the front row of the gallery
Official White House photo:
President Obama addressing Parliament and I am in the end of the front row of the gallery
Me with my ticket to see the President
Me with my ticket to see the President

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