ELLSWORTH, Wis. — An unorthodox graduation ceremony took another unexpected turn for two Ellsworth graduates. Allie Jennings and Rachel Leonard will head to the White House for a graduation ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday, May 22.
The two seniors caught the White House’s attention a couple of weeks ago when they decided to take their already purchased prom dresses and dance for residents at Prescott Nursing and Rehabilitation Community. Jennings and Leonard are both certified nursing assistants at the facility and thought an impromptu “prom dance” would put a smile on the residents’ faces.
The White House, in turn, invited the two 18-year-olds to take part in a graduation ceremony in the Rose Garden.
“It’s just crazy. The night that I got the call, Rachel called me and said the White House is trying to get a hold of us,” Jennings said. “So I go, ‘Mom, I have to call the White House.’
“They didn’t answer but they called back a couple minutes later and said they need me to come down there on Friday if I want for a graduation ceremony. I just started crying; there’s just no way this is real.”
“It’s still unbelievable,” Leonard said. “I’ll probably be walking up the White House steps before I’m like ‘Oh, this is happening huh?’”
The Ellsworth seniors are two of 20 graduates from around the country invited to the ceremony. They were told that the ceremony is not just for high school graduates but college graduates as well.
Jennings and Leonard will leave for Washington, D.C., Thursday morning with their mothers and stay at a hotel. The plan is to head to the White House at noon Friday for a security check and be tested for coronavirus. Once that is completed, Leonard said they will have some downtime to grab a bite to eat or potentially get a tour of the White House.
An hour before the graduation ceremony, the Ellsworth grads will get a rehearsal in.
Once the ceremony begins, President Donald Trump will give a speech and then offer a chance for some of the graduates to speak as well. Leonard and Jennings said they are unsure if they will be chosen to speak at the ceremony but were told to craft speeches just in case.
Each graduate will be called up by Trump to receive a certificate of achievement with their name and school on it.
Jennings and Leonard were informed of their invitation last Friday. With only a week to arrange travel plans and book a hotel, the past few days have been a blur to them. They were told by White House staff to wear their school’s graduation attire for the ceremony. They were set to pick up their caps and gowns for the Ellsworth High School graduation Friday, May 22, but due to their trip they will pick them up Wednesday instead.
“I’m still processing it all,” Leonard said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I’ll definitely be telling this story to my kids some day.”