This story was produced by a student in the Madison365 Academy, Madison365’s journalism training program.
Two students in the University of Wisconsin’s PEOPLE program, Kingsley Pissang and DeJa Cooper, were among more than 130 college-bound students welcomed at the third annual “Beating the Odds Summit” at the White House, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, on Tuesday, July 19.
The event included a panel of individuals like YouTube personality Tyler Oakley, who attended the summit in 2014; Education Secretary John. B King, Jr; and Jidenna, a musician and graduate of Stanford University.
There were over 60 non-profit organizations invited to attend the summit from several states. From Wisconsin two students were selected from the PEOPLE program.
One of the students, West High School graduate Pissang, says she was “shocked” to be chosen.
“My advisor called me out of the blue on a Tuesday morning after school had let out and she told me I was one of two students chosen to go to the White House,” she says. “I was so shocked I had to sit down, I almost thought it was a joke honestly. Although I had met Obama when he came to my middle school, I never thought I would be going to the White House on top of that, meeting the First Lady.”
She says she was chosen by virtue of her participation in the PEOPLE program, which aims to connect people of color with the University of Wisconsin. Being a student at West helped, too.
“My high school, Madison West, was one of the only schools within our cohort to have all of our students admitted into UW,” she says.
“The best part of the event was being in the presence of minority excellence, as well as the advice each panel member had to give,” she says. “The First Lady, along with the secretary of education, Jidenna and Tyler Oakley were all wonderful speakers. My trip to the White House was incredible and I had a great time and hope to do it again someday.”
Cooper, a recent graduate from Morse-Marshall High School, says “The event went great. I have never been to DC so getting a chance to go was amazing”. This was a good opportunity for DeJa to gain more travel experience. It was an honor to get a chance to go to the White House, she says – and she even made a local connection while she was there. “ I was able to meet other students from across the country, including someone who will be attending UW Madison in the fall.”
Like Kingsley, Cooper was shocked when she found out she found out about the opportunity.
“My mother told me that my advisor from PEOPLE asked her about the chance to go to DC to go to the White House. It kind of came out of the blue,” she says. “My favorite part was being able to see the First Lady. I have always seen her on tv but seeing her in person was a little surreal. She is someone I admire, so being able to see her was amazing.”
The guest arrived at the White House at 8 am with a set agenda for the day. When entering the White House there were routine security checks. Shortly after that there was a prepared Continental breakfast provided for the guests, followed by the option to take a tour. Before the event started a social media moment was available to the students to take and share pictures.
The speakers got underway at 10 am and after lunch the students were again able to break off and take another social media moment; this time, though, they got the chance to take pictures with First Lady Michelle Obama and the panelists. Then once the break was over with everyone gathered for a performance put on by Jidenna and the day wrapped up with a reception.
The event’s main focus was to give inspiration to the students, but it also inspired the chaperones.
PEOPLE program Interim Pre-College Program Manager Kia Hunter accompanied the two students. “It was my first time at the event but we were re-invited by the white house committee,” she says. “They were very inspirational, telling us about their journeys the stories were very inspiring. There were a lot of teary eyes.”