South Carolina student in spotlight at Obama speech

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 25, 2009 

Ty'Sheoma Bethea received one of the evening's most rousing ovations, and she didn't say a word.

Sitting next to First Lady Michelle Obama in the center mezzanine of the House of Representatives chamber, the South Carolina 8th-grader beamed as President Barack Obama described a recent letter she wrote to her nation's leaders.

"The letter asks us for help and says, 'We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina, but also the world.'"

As Obama finished reading from her letter Tuesday night, the 535 members of Congress, nine Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members and military leaders leaped to their feet and applauded.

"'We are not quitters,'" Obama quoted from her letter.

He repeated for emphasis: "We are not quitters!"

Michelle Obama mouthed the words, "That's right," embraced Ty'Sheoma and hugged the Dillon, S.C., student's mother, Dina Leach.

Wearing a lavender dress, Ty'Sheoma stood and smiled shyly for almost a minute as the applause washed over her.

Ty'Sheoma and her mother were among 20 guests invited to join the first lady in her mezzanine box for Barack Obama's historic first presidential address to a joint session of Congress.

After flying to Washington from Columbia, S.C., Ty'Sheoma and her mother attended a White House reception where they visited with the president and the first lady.

Ty'Sheoma and her mother were expected to return to South Carolina today and attend an afternoon "welcome home" celebration at J.V. Martin Junior High School featuring South Carolina Superintendent of Education Jim Rex.

Obama campaigned at J.V. Martin in August 2007 on his way to winning the South Carolina Democratic Primary five months later, a key victory on his way to the White House.

At his first presidential news conference two weeks ago, Obama held up J.V. Martin as the kind of dilapidated public school that money from his $787 billion economic-stimulus plan will help modernize.

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