Marianna Sotomayor met the president and first lady after receiving inaugural GW-WHCA scholarship.
April 27, 2015
Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner attracted the usual mix of political powerhouses and Hollywood celebrities eager to catch President Barack Obama at his most playful and provocative.
But this year, there was one person with strong ties to George Washington University listed among special guests like Bradley Cooper and Laverne Cox. It was Marianna Sotomayor, a senior working on her master’s degree through the School of Media and Public Affairs combined degree program. Ms. Sotomayor literally had a front-row seat to watch Washington’s most illustrious celebration unfold.
Ms. Sotomayor is the inaugural recipient of the new George Washington University-White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) scholarship. In addition to $2,500 in scholarship funds, she received a rare opportunity to attend the WHCA Dinner, where she met President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with top national political reporters.
“Journalists came up to me to say, ‘This night is for you,’ and it made me realize the magnitude of this amazing partnership between GW and the WHCA,” she said. “It truly is one of those ‘only at GW moments,’ and being the first recipient was absolutely surreal.”
GW is the latest addition to the WHCA’s scholarship program, which includes institutions such as Columbia and Northwestern universities.
Like Ms. Sotomayor, GW’s future recipients will attend the annual WHCA Dinner in the spring of their senior year and meet the president of the United States and first lady.
Ms. Sotomayor knew the evening would go by quickly, so she tried to remind herself to enjoy every moment. She got ready early—starting at 2 p.m. for a 6:30 p.m. start time—and arrived at the Washington Hilton ahead of schedule, anticipating traffic. The gravity of the event hit her as soon as she stepped out of her car and came face-to-face with screaming crowds eager to get a glimpse of political players and glamor icons.
She walked past Ivanka Trump and Gayle King on her way inside. At the event afterparty, she realized she was standing by Michael Kelly, who plays the president’s terrifying utility man, Doug Stamper, on her favorite political drama, “House of Cards.”
“He’s definitely not as creepy as his character,” she said. “He seemed really nice and was all smiles at the event.”
But while the House of Cards regular left her gaping, Ms. Sotomayor was more star-struck by the parade of journalists streaming through the Hilton. She spotted Dana Bash, B.A. ’93, CNN’s chief congressional correspondent; Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, a former GW student and member of SMPA’s National Council; and the New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker. She got a chance to chat with several Politico reporters and the vice president of VICE Media.
Before dinner, Ms. Sotomayor and a group of WHCA scholars from other universities were led into a small VIP room. She noticed the evening’s featured comedian Cecily Strong, supermodel Chrissy Teigen and the cast of Modern Family milling about. Moments later, President Obama and Mrs. Obama walked in to greet the students.
“As I watched Michelle get closer and closer, I was like ‘This is insane. I can’t believe I’m here,’ ” Ms. Sotomayor said.
President Obama shook her hand and told Ms. Sotomayor it was great to meet her. Flashes went off as Ms. Sotomayor had her picture taken with the country’s first couple.
Her head was still reeling when she took her dinner seat at a table near Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore. Midway through the program, all of the WHCA scholars were called to the stage individually and lauded for their achievements. Ms. Sotomayor made her way past former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and actress Tea Leoni as she cautiously stepped into the spotlight (“I was thinking, ‘don’t trip, don’t trip, don’t trip,’”) and shook hands with a line of WHCA board members. She shook hands with the president again and, at the end of the receiving line, Mrs. Obama greeted her with a hug.
“She told me that journalism needed more people like me in the field,” Ms. Sotomayor remembered. “Well, if Michelle said that, I can’t fail her now.”