Seven Los Angeles community college students--including three students from San Fernando Valley campuses--shook hands with the leader of the only superpower nation in the world last week during a special college media day at the White House.
The seven students got the chance to meet the President and senior Administration officials Thursday, in part because of a miscommunication between White House organizers of the event and college district officials.
A White House spokeswoman said she had intended to invite only one student from the district to attend the college media conference, but district officials instructed deans at each of the nine campuses to select an outstanding journalism student to attend.
After the miscue was discovered, White House officials decided to allow all of the students selected to attend the conference, designed to address education issues and expose college journalists to the inner workings of the White House media machine.
Gabriel Monge, 24, a student at Mission College in Sylmar, said he felt lucky to attend.
"The thing that impressed the most was how sincere the (Administration officials) seemed," said Monge, a San Fernando resident who aspires to a media career. "I can't believe they would all be putting up a front. They all seemed approachable--that's what hit me. It seemed that if you told them they were screwing up, they'd try something new."
The student conference began at 8:30 a.m. in the Old Executive Building adjacent to the White House grounds, where the group of about 200 was welcomed by White House spokesman Michael McCurry.
Later, U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Education Secretary Richard Riley and other Cabinet-level officials made presentations on issues ranging from federal student loans to affirmative action policies.
After a lunch of sandwiches and potato chips, the group underwent a second security check and was shepherded into the East Wing of the White House.
There, President Clinton made a 15-minute speech focusing on the importance of continuing federal loan guarantees for qualified students, and highlighting the successes of his Administration, citing the nation's growing economy and low unemployment rates. Then, he took questions.
Because of his seat near the front, Shafeeq A. Qaasim, 45, a journalism student at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, was able to pose a question to the President. He was the only member of the Los Angeles delegation to do so. Qaasim asked Clinton about his views on California's recently passed Proposition 187, which would deny public assistance benefits to illegal immigrants.
"His response was satisfactory," Qaasim said. "He agreed we need to address the immigration problem, but doesn't support 187, because he does not feel it is fair to the children affected."
In addition to Monge and Qaasim, students from Valley College in Van Nuys, Pierce College in Woodland Hills and Harbor College in Wilmington as well as the student representative to the district's Board of Trustees attended the conference.