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Meeting Obama

September 1, 2009

Freshman meets Obama

Christney Kpodo has Oct. 13 marked forever on her calendar. That’s the day she shook the hand of President Barack Obama. She even gave the leader of the free world a hug. Kpodo, 18, was one of five youths who, through competing in a series of local, state and regional competitions for Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Youth of the Year, reached the final stage in September. Although she did not win the top slot of national Youth of the Year, she still got to go back to Washington D.C., twice. In the last visit in October, she met Obama.

Kpodo and her four other contenders were supposed to meet the president on the first trip back in September. But Obama was booked on the David Letterman show that day. So the meeting would have to wait.

But for Kpodo, the wait was well worth the second trip.

After waiting briefly in the Roosevelt Room, Obama emerged from the Oval Office and said “come on in,” Kpodo recalled.

He went over and leaned on his desk, and began asking each student about their goals and dreams, and where they were going to school. Kpodo quickly put in a plug for PLU and told Obama she wanted to be a lawyer someday. When he shook each students’ hand, she asked for a hug, and without missing a beat, he gave her one.

“He’s just so cool and humble,” Kpodo said. “This was a life-changing experience.”

Kpodo told Obama that the students supported the change he wanted, and for him to keep at it. She also congratulated him on winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

“He said ‘Yeah, another headache,’ but then said how honored he was to receive it,” Kpodo said.

The entire visit lasted 15 minutes, but Kpodo said she will remember it for the rest of her life.

Jinnie Hanson ‘06, Marketing & Communications Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, said Kpodo rose through the ranks of contenders based on her work and volunteer efforts both at home and at the clubs. Hanson noted that Kpodo has worked on various volunteer projects, including helping at the local food bank, knitting blankets as well as being involved in ASB in high school.

From age six, she was helping care for her ailing grandmother in the family’s Tacoma home – helping give insulin injections and turning the elderly woman to prevent bedsores.  Her mother, Evelyn, a nurse, worked long hours, and when there wasn’t enough food on the table to go around, Kpodo recalled, her mother went without that day so Kpodo and her older sister could eat.

When she was 12, not only did her beloved grandmother die, but an injury to Kpodo’s ankle almost necessitated that the lower part of her leg be amputated. Eight surgeries later, doctors saved the leg, though Kpodo had to work hard to catch up with seventh grade classes.  She’s faced, and overcome, domestic violence in her life and other struggles.

“I didn’t enjoy going through all this,” Kpodo said before she left for DC in September. “But I have enjoyed volunteering at the Boys & Girls and helping others who may be going through the same thing I did.

“My grandmother always said, ‘What I do will either open or shut doors for others that follow me,’” she said.

She wants to get her law degree after she graduates and work as a pro bono lawyer in family law.

“If my grandmother was living now, she’d be so proud,” Kpodo said of her Obama visit.