West Philly Student Invited To State Of The Union

fromWHYY

Four members of the West Philly Hybrid X Team gained national attention for outstanding work in an international fuel-efficiency contest for cars. In September, President Obama invited them to the White House, but Brandon Ford forgot his ID and couldn't get in. But Mrs. Obama didn't forget the boy. He sat with her during the State of the Union.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, in last night's State of the Union Address, President Obama said the United States needs to refocus on science and technology education.

President BARACK OBAMA: This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the space race.

INSKEEP: For one Philadelphia technology student who got to watch in person, that speech was a second chance to have his own moment.

Carolyn Beeler reports from member station WHYY in Philadelphia.

CAROLYN BEELER: It was a quiet night at home for 17-year-old Azeem Hill. He watched the president's speech from his living room in West Philadelphia.

Mr. AZEEM HILL (High School Student): Oh, yeah. I see him. I saw him. I saw him. Yeah, there he was. He's like in the front row.

BEELER: Hill was searching the crowd shots on TV for his friend Brandon Ford, who was one of the students chosen to sit next to Michelle Obama during the speech.

Mr. HILL: He looked good. He was all dressed up and stuff with the president.

BEELER: Azeem and Brandon are on the West Philly Hybrid X Team, a high school club. The group got a lot of attention last year for outlasting teams of professionals and college students in an international competition to design fuel-efficient cars. In September, team members were invited to attend a White House speech announcing a new math and science initiative, where President Obama gave the team a shout-out.

President BARACK OBAMA: They certainly didn't have every advantage in life. What they had was a program that challenged them to solve problems and to work together, to learn and build and create. And that's the kind of spirit and ingenuity that we have to foster.

Mr. HILL: It was just a really cool, profound moment. You know, I'm sitting across from the president while he's giving his speech. Like, how many students can say that?

BEELER: But Brandon, he missed all this praise. He didn't have his I.D. on him, so he couldn't get through security and into the White House. He had to wait outside. A White House staffer said she felt bad and would try to do something nice for Brandon.

Mr. SIMON HAUGER (Director, West Philly Hybrid X Team): Our gut was, you know, a letter or a photo or something like that.

BEELER: That's Simon Hauger, director of the West Philly Hybrid X Team. Last week, Hauger was in the car with a team volunteer when a call came from Washington, asking if Brandon would like to sit with the first lady during the State of the Union.

Mr. HAUGER: We were utterly surprised and delighted. And like I said, it couldn't have happened to a nicer kid. He's really delightful.

Mr. HILL: Just to see that they went out their way and did that for the West Philly Hybrid X Team a second time really shows his appreciation not only for our team but for innovation, for the future and, you know, what we represent and what we're fighting for.

BEELER: As he watched the speech, Azeem said didn't agree with everything President Obama said about transforming science and technology education. Still, that doesn't mean he wouldn't have liked to be there for that speech.

Mr. HILL: I'm jealous because I want to be at the White House again. But I have schoolwork, so I'm staying home tonight. I'm proud of him. I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BEELER: For NPR News, I'm Carolyn Beeler in Philadelphia.

INSKEEP: And that's part of our State of the Union coverage, which we're hearing throughout today's MORNING EDITION. You can also find many things at NPR.org, including a transcript of the speech.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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