And, of course, networking
Ms. Dudley in career services tried to explain how overwhelming the White House Correspondents Association Dinner would be. However, after the event I realized nothing could have really prepared me for the adventure that awaited me, Crystal Cranmore and Christina Wright as winners of the association’s scholarship.
We arrived at the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue and were immediately faced with protestors lining the streets claiming that journalists are overly concerned with negativity and “gotcha journalism.” Whatever. After working for the Hilltop, the campus newspaper, all three of us know that people hate journalists even for making the smallest of mistakes and say almost nothing positive when the job is done right. As the town car drove through the small group of protestors in front of the hotel, I saw for the first time (of many) the flashbulbs going off and the important and wealthy looking people sashaying around the front of the hotel. The fun was just beginning.
Whatever photos of us that were taken on the red carpet are doubtless going to show our confusion and surprise in reaction to the glamour and the legion of flashbulbs that all seemed to go off at once on the sidelines. Plus, none of us are sure who they were or where they came from, but as we walked in there were packs of people applauding as each person (famous or not) made their entrance. When we walked in, all three of us wondered what celebrity had walked in just in front of us, then we realized the people were cheering for us and taking our photos.
From there we made our way to the Cabinet Room of the Washington Hilton and the V.I.P. reception. It was almost like a parade of faces and names I’d always seen on television but never thought I’d meet. First we met the scholarship winners from Northwestern University in Illinois, graduate students David Rivelli and Melissa Jo Schmitt. Soon after, the three of us met Ann Compton from ABC, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice-who was surprisingly down to earth and welcoming, Katie Couric of the CBS Evening News, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne and the hilarious emcee for the evening Craig Ferguson from the Drew Carey Show and the CBS Late Late Show. We also met the legendary journalist and author Helen Thomas who gave us words of wisdom concerning our chosen career paths and also on the War in Iraq. She’s an amazing woman I think we’d all like to sit down and talk with again in a more low key setting. The three of us also talked with President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush who were both very friendly and while the Christina and Crystals ran off to the restroom just before the presentation and dinner, I sidled up to White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and was introduced by members of the association. Thankfully they had no problem helping us work our way around the room, although Christina devised (very effective) game plans and “sneak attacks” for us to make sure we met everyone we wanted to and documented the whole affair on camera. Still, a phrase for the night was “I wish Mrs. Dudley or Professor Dixon were here,” because it was all very intimidating to navigate the crowd mostly on our own-but we did it. We were all a bit sour about the fact that with all the tables in the room two extra seats couldn’t have been offered to the two people who made this possible for us. Nonetheless we’re thankful and appreciative for the award and the opportunity to be at the dinner.
While we waited to be introduced during the dinner, we ran into Ayesha Rascoe, who works for Reuters and is the former editor of The Hilltop. Following our brief introductions on stage during the dinner and our second time shaking hands with the President, we each left the stage and ran right into former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell as we made our way to our seats for the dinner, which was delicious. Soon we made our rounds through the ballroom to see who we could see-and there were plenty of people to see in that ballroom.
I suppose the reception and dinner were a preview of what it will be like to be a journalist (I know it won’t always be glamorous-if ever-and that I won’t always be meeting famous people and political big shots) but, what I learned that night is that I always need to be ready to meet people, shake hands and remember that no matter how important or legendary someone is, or what side of the political fence they may be on, at the end of the day they are as human as I am.
I also learned the importance of not being star struck and tongue tied at red carpet events! Hopefully the White House Correspondents’ Dinner was the first of many that I’ll attend as a journalist. Just next time, I’ll have a better idea of what to expect and I’ll be ready for the cameras and questions from all sides. I always hear journalists aren’t too excited to go from covering the news to becoming the news itself, but I think the three of us enjoyed our fifteen minutes of fame for the night.
I’ll never forget the time we had at the WHCA Dinner, and the laughs we had soon afterward. I’m glad I got to close out my sophomore year at Howard on such a high note.