Friday, January 22 started out the same as any other day, with the exception that I was going to meet the most powerful man in the country, or rather, in the world. Looking back at yesterday's events, I'm surprised I wasn't nearly as nervous as I thought I might have been. I guess I just couldn't grasp the fact that President Obama was coming to LCCC’s Fab Lab.
Once on campus and through security, it was a normal day in the lab. Students visiting from a high school were learning geometry by constructing three-dimensional boxes on our two Epilog lasers, and everyone was discussing how to build the best box or helping one another. All of a sudden I saw several people enter the room and I heard "Sorry to interrupt you guys…." I recognized that voice from somewhere. It was President Barack Obama! I took me a second to put together in my mind what was happening, I was surprised to see the President in the Fab Lab, even after preparing the lab for so many hours in the days preceding.
Once he was in the Fab Lab, he stopped by a table to greet Desirae and Akil, two high school students who were working with me to design and create a rocking chair. He looked over our 1/6th scale prototype (made on the laser), and also checked out our first full-size model (built on the ShopBot). Next he went around our horseshoe-shaped computer table and spoke with each student about what they were learning and how they were going about their designs.
While he was doing this, Desirae, Akil, and I hurried out to the ShopBot to get it running in time for the President to see it. I was worried we wouldn't be able to start and warm up the machine in time; as I turned on the power to the spindle and started the warm-up sequence I had to ask the Press to step back from the machine and put on their safety glasses. Desirae powered up the dust collector as Akil manned the emergency stop button. Finally the machine was ready to make another rocking chair.
After viewing the main part of the Fab Lab, President Obama glanced out the soundproof window overlooking the Shopbot with a look of curiosity on his face. The Press snapped away pictures. Moments later he appeared walking through the door and approached us at the ShopBot. He shook each of our hands and asked us our names. "Wow," he said in an impressed tone, "so you just tell the computer what you want to make, and this machine will make it happen?"
At that moment, as he watched the machine trace the profile of the chair, I realized that our little lab was much more significant than I had ever imagined, we actually impressed the President of the United States!
Just before he left our lab, Desirae asked the President "Can I get a high-five?" He said "Sure!" with a smile on his face as their hands met, followed by a fist bump. That was probably the coolest thing I’ve seen a president do. It made me feel like he identified with us and was more on our level. He said goodbye to us and walked to his limo parked in the loading bay at the back of the lab. In a few seconds the three of us were all that was left of the mob of important people, Press, and security that had been swarming around. We were all still pretty stoked about what had just happened and we recapped our memories of the event with each other until their class started packing up their things to leave. That was surely a day that none of us will ever forget.