When the school intercom calls students into an assembly, they don’t expect anything thrilling. They might hear some safety tips, or maybe some kind of over-hyped motivational speaker screaming about passion and job markets. Of course, there is an exception to every rule.
For these Chicago teenagers, a surprise guest in their school library would change their lives forever. But what really blew their minds was when a second famous visitor appeared…
In October 2017, one school day at the Hyde Park Academy High School began like any other. The bell rang, students filed into their homerooms, teachers made last-minute adjustments to their lesson plans. Nobody realized they were in for an extraordinary afternoon.
The Chicago institution had seen its fair share of special events. Founded back in 1863, Hyde Park has taught the city’s brightest young people for generations. In addition to the usual curriculum, the school strives to provide students with special opportunities.
Though there were no events scheduled for that day, Hyde Park administrators invited a select group of students to come to the library that afternoon. The only clue given was that a special guest would visit them.
High-profile visitors to the school weren’t exactly a rarity either. Famous alumni, like Amelia Earhart, stopped by many times over the years. Even public figures who had no history with Hyde Park often couldn’t resist a visit. Their biggest guest came in 2013.
Barack Obama, who started his family and career in the Hyde Park neighborhood, delivered a speech about the state of the country in the school’s auditorium. He also advised students about how to mature into exceptional adults.
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Even better, the commander-in-chief gave students in the “Becoming A Man” club a private tour of the White House weeks later. It was certainly a highlight, though President Obama would not be making another appearance at Hyde Park in 2017.
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That was the bad news. But students gathered in the library felt far from disappointed when they saw a very familiar face waltz through the door: First Lady Michelle Obama! What was she doing here, totally unannounced?
Well, the Hyde Park kids were too thrilled to ask Michelle why she was in their library. Exchanging hugs and taking selfies, they could hardly believe a national hero was in their midst. Michelle was also a local hero, as she spent almost her entire life in Chicago.
Before she let all her young admirers settle down, however, Michelle shared that she had another big surprise in store for them. She brought along a friend from far away, someone who was possibly just as influential as herself.
Cheers erupted in Hyde Park Academy when none other than Prince Harry made his grand entrance! These teenagers had followed his life for years on TV and in magazines, but they never expected to meet him.
Once the celebration died down, Michelle said she and Harry were in town for the Obama Foundation Summit. That didn’t quite explain why they’d shown up at the high school out of the blue, however. The First Lady then revealed that she had special plans for Hyde Park.
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For one thing, the two visitors saw empowering young people as a key element of their mission. “I know what you’re capable of. When you look at me, you should see yourselves,” proclaimed Michelle with a smile.
Twitter / Kensington Palace
“The younger generation is the cure to all of the problems,” agreed Harry. He went on to explain that the real solution for a brighter future is to “create a platform for young people to be able to have their voices heard.”
On a less serious note, Harry also dove into his tourist experiences in Chicago. While he swore that he basically never ate pizza, the prince admitted the previous night he gorged on some deep dish — plus a little thin crust, for comparison’s sake.
From there, Michelle took the lead in the group conversation. With the country’s next generation of leaders listening, she revealed details of a plan that would change Hyde Park forever.
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A number of cities had bid to host the Obama Presidential Center — a civic center and library that would carry on his mission after he left office. The Obamas decided that Chicago would serve as the best location, and they planned to build it in a very important location.
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The sprawling campus would be right across the street from Hyde Park Academy! Once completed, it would give the students and their fellow Chicagoans a place to learn, have a dialogue with other engaged citizens, and attend talks and lectures.
The Hyde Park students were honored to be included in the planning of such an exciting project. While it is easy to feel powerless as a teenager, they truly understood that their words and actions made a difference. So when would they get to explore the new Presidential center?
Unfortunately, they will have to wait until after graduation. Disagreements over funding and logistics pushed its estimated completion back to 2021. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that both the young people and the Presidential Center will become key players in Chicago’s future.
And in the meantime, these teenagers can draw upon the advice of Michelle and Harry to do just about anything they set their minds to. You really can’t understate the impact of inspiring leaders reaching out to young people.