Connell High student invited to attend Obama’s inauguration

KENNEWICK — Shelby Kessler’s trip to Washington, D.C., this month won’t be her first to the nation’s capital, but it’s likely to be the most memorable.

The Connell High School freshman visited Washington, D.C., as a sixth-grader when she was chosen by her elementary school principal to go to a youth leadership conference.

Attending that session, as well as another on state government last year in Bellevue, lead to the arrival of an ornate envelope and card in the mail.

It was an invitation to watch the second inauguration of President Obama on Jan. 21. The High School Presidential Inaugural Conference includes getting to watch the 57th U.S. inauguration, as well as visiting Smithsonian museums.

“It was surprising,” the 14-year-old told the Herald.

While she still is far from deciding what she will end up doing with her life, she and others said the trip will go far in helping her determine her future path.

After high school, she said she is thinking about studying business, where leadership skills are critical.

“It’s something really positive and really special for her rsum,” said Shelby’s father, Connell Police Chief Mike Kessler.

The five-day conference includes a special viewing of the inauguration ceremony, attending a formal ball and discussions of presidential politics and the office.

The conference is organized by Envision EMI, a Washington, D.C.,-based education company. Four years ago, 15,000 students, from middle school- to college-age, attended the conference, according to news reports.

But Shelby said she is most interested in the conference’s two guest speakers, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former presidential candidate and NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark.

“Being able to listen to people who’ve given to our country will be really awesome,” Shelby said.

Being selected didn’t guarantee Shelby could attend. She had to find a way to pay the $3,250 tuition, as well as pay for her travel costs.

She managed to raise $4,000 by working for her mother, organizing several yard sales and with some help from her grandmother.

Kessler said his daughter is excited for the trip and that she’s worked hard for it — not just by raising money but also putting herself in a position to be noticed by getting good grades and being a part of the community.

“(Her mother and I) think it’s a pretty unique opportunity for her,” he said.

Connell High Principal Tim Peterson said Shelby is an excellent student and a good role model at the school. He said he knew some Connell High students served as pages for state lawmakers in Olympia but didn’t know about any who have been to a presidential inauguration.

“She’ll be a good ambassador for us,” he said.

Shelby said she is a little nervous ahead of her Jan. 19 flight, noting it’s the first time she will have flown alone. But she’s also excited.

“I really want to do well in my life,” she said.