West Philly High School Junior Brandon Ford is returning home today after a whirlwind trip to Washington, DC. Tuesday night he watched the State of the Union Address alongside First Lady Michelle Obama.
“It was an honor to be there,” Ford said. “It was an honor to sit in her box and it was an overwhelming, great experience for me.”
Ford shook hands with President Obama, who asked him if he preferred the Steelers or Eagles (Eagles, naturally), and got a picture with the First Lady.
Ford had been invited to a speech at the White House in September as part of the West Philly Hybrid X team. The group won national attention for outlasting teams of professionals and college students in an international competition to design fuel-efficient cars.
But Ford forgot his ID, so he wasn’t allowed through security and into the White House. He had to wait outside, where the Hybrid X Team’s director, Simon Hauger, said a White House staffer took pity on him.
“One of the staffers there felt really bad that Brandon wouldn’t get to come in so she said she would try to do something for him,” Hauger said. “Our gut was a letter or a photo or something like that.”
Nothing came in the mail and after a few weeks, everyone thought the President had forgotten about Brandon. Then last week, a call came from Washington asking if Brandon would like to sit with the First Lady during the State of the Union.
“We were utterly surprised and delighted,” Hauger said. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid, he’s really delightful.”
Azeem Hill, Ford’s teammate who remembered his ID and got into the White House in September, watched the speech from his living room in West Philly.
“He looked good,” Hill said when he spotted Ford in a crowd shot. “He was all dressed up and stuff with the President.”
Hill said he was jealous that Ford got to see the speech in person, but he is proud of his friend and knows the invite was good for the club.
“Just to see that they (the Obama administration) 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 what we represent and what we’re fighting for,” Hill said.
Ford brought two IDs to Washington this time around, just in case, and sat a few seats away from the First Lady. He said his favorite part was when President Obama mentioned another Brandon, Brandon Fisher. The Western Pennsylvania businessman helped design drilling equipment used to free the trapped Chilean miners.
“He didn’t want any limelight or anything,” Ford said. “He saved all those Chile workers with his drilling technology and he went back home and tried to go on with his normal life.”
Ford will take a step back from his limelight and go back to classes Thursday.
View photos of the West Philly Hybrid X team as they work on their award-winning design.