Lily Payne, 10, receives return letter and picture from President Obama
On President’s Day this year, Bethel Elementary School fifth grader Lily Payne listened intently as her teacher, Britney Pless, explained a special assignment to her students. The assignment was to write a letter to the President of the United States.
“Wow,” said Payne that day in her class. She really liked real-life assignments like that.
She wrote a letter at school that day telling President Barack Obama her name, where she went to school, her teacher’s name, the books she read that week and told him that her favorite book was “The Hunger Games.”
“Then I decided I wanted to put some more stuff in it and write a longer letter, so I went home and wrote another one,” Payne said.
In her best handwriting, she carefully wrote: “Dear Mr. President, I want to tell you about me. To start, I’m 10 years of age and in fifth grade. My birthday is July 4. I am a triplet. I was a quadruplet. My twin Emily Shawn Payne died. My parents are Shannon Cagle Payne and Derek Joe Payne. I have one brother and one sister. Their names are Hayden Payne and Olivia Payne. I had a tumor in my neck and they cut it out so I am missing part of C-7. Because of that, my right hand muscles are affected. I live on Scottdale Road. Sincerely, Lily Elizabeth Payne. P.S. – I have always wanted to write a President and get a letter back so if you could please send back a letter and give information about you and send a picture of you and your family and if you have any pets. Please write back – Lily. Thank you for everything you have done.”
Since she didn’t know the exact address of the White House, she simply addressed the envelope “The White House.”
She didn’t know if the letter would make it to President Obama or not, but she never gave up hope that she would receive a response. Then, one day when she came home from school in her pajamas (because it was “Pajama Day”), she was thrilled to see a large brown envelope waiting on her.
The return address said “The White House.”
“When she saw it, she was shocked and her eyes got really big,” said her grandmother, Nancy Cagle, noting that the envelope held a letter from President Obama, a signed picture of him and a picture of his dog, Bo.
The letter from the White House read, “Dear Student: Thank you for writing. I am continually inspired by the enthusiasm and ideas of young Americans and I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts with me. One of the most important things I can do as President is make sure your tomorrow is as bright as it can be. Young people like you are America’s future, and whether we fall behind or race ahead as a Nation will depend largely on your generation. As you grow and learn, remember that our country is counting on you to be a dedicated and hard-working student. I encourage you to set your sights high, aim for excellence in all that you do, and try each day to improve the lives of others in your community. Thank you, again, for your message. I wish you all the best. Sincerely, Barack Obama.”
She was also super excited to get a picture of the White House dog, Bo, a Portuguese water dog. When Payne read the information on the back of the picture, she learned that Bo was a gift to the Obama family from Sen. Ted Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, that he loves to play on the White House lawn and go on walks with the Obama family, that his favorite exercise is running and then napping near the Obama girls and his favorite food is tomatoes – or toys.
“I thought it was funny because, even though Bo is a Portuguese water dog, he doesn’t know how to swim!” said Payne.
Soon after this fifth grader received her envelope from the White House, she was able to visit Washington, D.C., with her fellow fifth grade students on their annual educational three-day field trip. During the once-in-a-lifetime trip, her nation’s history truly came to life in front of her eyes, especially when her bus passed the White House and she was able to see it for herself and take a photo.
The students impressed the teachers and the parent chaperones with their hands-on knowledge of the political process. “One time our official guide asked students questions and they were answering all types of questions correctly about the legislative, executive and judicial branches and it was really an educational experience for them,” said Payne’s mother, Shannon Cagle Payne.
After receiving the letter from President Obama and visiting Washington, D.C., first-hand, the world now seems much bigger to Payne, and to remember her expanded educational experience, she plans to always keep her letter from the President.
To her, it represents that, with effort and energy, her dreams can come true.
“I’m going to get that letter framed and put it on my bedroom wall,” said Payne proudly.