FLOTUS on the State Dinner: Like a Swan, “Calm and Serene Above Water, But We’re Paddling Like Mad, Going Crazy Underneath”

By Gorman Gorman

Nov 24, 2009 4:29pm

ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports:

Seventeen high school girls got a special sneak preview of the White House state dinner arrangements this afternoon, shown by hostess First Lady Michelle Obama.

As part of the "White House Leadership and Mentoring Program", the First Lady invited the some of her mentees to the State Dining Room to sit at two tables outfitted for tonight’s White House dinner on the South lawn.

Dressed casually the girls filtered in and took their places at the tables, draped in apple green linen, set with White House china, and adorned with the intricate purple flower settings.

"We’ve got a big day going on," First Lady Michelle Obama said, "This is our first official state visit of the Obama administration. It’s very exciting for us."

The First Lady said that the joke — midway through the official state visit with still much left to do including the all-important state dinner on the horizon – is that they feel like a "swan".

"We're kind of calm and serene above water — but we're paddling like mad, going crazy underneath, trying to look smooth."

Going over some of the behind-the-scenes preparation the First Lady said that it takes everyone at the White House, the State Department and the Military office to put all of today’s events together – and ticked though all the things that were handled, "the guest list, the invitations, the place settings that you see here, you've got to figure out who sits where — all that fun stuff."

Mrs. Obama explained that even in a House as big as the White House "there’s only so many people that we can invite," so invited these girls to the White House beforehand to be able to expose them to what will happen at the state dinner- so they could understand an event that feels to them "untouchable."

"The states visits and dinners are a really important part of our nation’s diplomacy. Throughout history they’ve given US presidents and the American people the opportunity to make important milestones in foreign relations. So these dinners and events are really critical to what we do internationally. And they've helped build stronger ties with nations as well as people around the world.  That's what President Obama and Prime Minister Singh are doing today."

Visiting eight countries as First Lady so far, Mrs. Obama said that she has been able to be "on the other side" of these visits and inners – as guests to foreign hosts – and that is why today means so much.

"In each and every country, during each and every visit, I have been moved by the warmth and gracious hospitality that our hosts and the citizens of the countries that we visited have extended to the President and to me. It means a great deal when you're visiting and your hosts make you feel like you're at home, like they're excited to see you.  It means the world."

Mrs. Obama said her foreign travel is not just "the pomp and circumstances and the lights and the cameras and the fancy dresses," but rather that it  also teaches, ‘"us to look at the world broadly and to look at our place in it in a different way; to respect and admire each other's culture and traditions in a very different way; and to honor all the values and the interests we have in common across the world."

After today’s visit, the First Lady said, she hopes there will be more interactions and exchanges – for both those at the state dinner, as well as the mentees who attended her preview event this afternoon.

"Who knows, maybe one of you all sitting at this table, one of our little mentees, will be living and studying somewhere in India — maybe New Delhi or Mumbai or Bangalore.  Just imagine that, start thinking about your future in that way.  This visit at this table is the beginning of that for all of you.  Because, again, governments alone can't build the future that we want for the world.  That's the job for each and every one of us."

Mrs. Obama ended by describing something her husband kept in his office when he was a Senator: a
picture of Mahatma Gandhi.

"He was always a big supporter and admirer of Gandhi, because Gandhi inspired so many people — in India and all around the world — with his example of dignity and tolerance and peace.  And with a simple call, Gandhi would say:  ‘To be the change we wish to see in the world — we are that change.  We are that change.’"

The First Lady said today is an opportunity to deepen those ties – and be the change that each of us seeks, "whether that's in your home or in your school or in your community or in your country, you are all the change that we need."

FASHION WATCH: The First Lady wore a skirt designed by an Indian designer – Rachel Roy and a sparkly sweater from J Crew.

-Sunlen Miller

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