Thirty students from Huntington High School and two alumni became Washington VIPs this week, complete with a behind-the-scenes tour of a Smithsonian exhibit and a private meeting with first lady Michelle Obama.
The fashion students were invited to Washington as a reward for their class project last year, a book of designs of formal gowns for Obama to wear to the Inaugural Ball.
Their teachers sent the book to the White House last March. Not only did they receive a signed letter - "I would be proud to wear any of your creations," Obama wrote in part - but almost a year later, they were invited to see the first lady's gown, unveiled Tuesday at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
In her remarks at the museum, Obama asked the Huntington students to stand and thanked them for their work.
"I had so much fun looking through all the designs," she said, according to a transcript. "You all are obviously a very talented and beautiful and handsome group of people. And I am so pleased to be able to share this special day with you."
And after her speech, the students got to meet the first lady.
"She shook every one of the students' hands, took pictures," said Joan Fretz, the Huntington school district director of fine and performing arts. "She was hopeful that one day, they would be wearing their own dress designs."
Fretz called the two-day trip "the most extraordinary experience I've ever had" in more than 30 years of teaching.
"It was a recognition of creative teaching," she said. "I'd like to say that if the first lady was checking your homework, you'd be working harder."
A copy of their work will go into the Smithsonian's resource collection, Fretz said. The students also met Jason Wu, who designed Obama's Inaugural Ball gown, and Clare Brown, who designed the expansion of the museum's First Ladies exhibition.
Obama's words of encouragement made an impression on the students, some of whom want to pursue careers in the fashion business.
"I didn't even think we'd get a letter, and that was good enough," said Sabina Schneider, 17, who had designed a light blue dress with a long train.
"But a year later, she still remembered us. That was pretty amazing."
What the first lady said to them
"She definitely said thank you for all the designs. She was so glad to see us. She said you have so much opportunity, and go for your dreams."
- SABINA SCHNEIDER, 17, Huntington High School junior
"She told us how amazing our creativity was, and how great our designs were. She also wished us the best of luck...on our progression in the fashion industry."
- JENNY ASARO, 15, Huntington High School sophomore
"She said she hopes one day, she'll be wearing something we designed."
- MELEIKA AMOS, 17, Huntington High School junior