Peach County sophomore visits Obama in Oval Office

FORT VALLEY -- Ka’Shawn Burke didn’t know he was going to meet President Barack Obama until after he got to Washington, D.C.

He was going to the nation’s capital for a national 4-H conference, but he learned when he arrived that he was one of eight students chosen to visit the Oval Office.

“When they told me that, I was overwhelmed because I didn’t really know how I got selected,” he said. “I was glad that I got the privilege because I know that don’t that many people get the privilege to go in the White House, period.”

The mid-April visit gave Burke, a 16-year-old sophomore at Peach County High School, an opportunity to speak one on one with Obama. He didn’t use that chance to talk to the president about his plans to join the Navy after high school -- or any other personal information.

Instead, he stuck to the plan of describing his 4-H chapter’s efforts in robotics and the group’s garden, from which the teens take produce to help feed needy people in the Fort Valley community.

“I didn’t really want to get into my personal life. I just wanted to go ahead and tell him what we were doing in our 4-H programs,” Burke said.

Stories like Burke’s made an impression on U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who was also part of the visit.

“Each one of them had an inspiring story about how they are opening up new doors for kids in their hometowns, and how this work is building stronger communities where they can learn, play and grow,” Vilsack said in a statement.

Burke also noted that Obama was much more relaxed than he expected the president of the United States would be. “When I went in there, I thought he was going to be uptight because he’s the president,” Burke said. “When he got in there, ... he leaned on the sofa, and it was real homey. He was really down to earth; he was really concerned about what I was saying.”

That focus was in line with the commitment Burke has shown to the 4-H chapter at Fort Valley State over the last four or five years, said program coordinator Leslie Weaver.

“He’s put his time in and his work in,” Weaver said.

Weaver noted that the “extremely rare” experience of going to the White House was part of a trip that had big potential in the development of young leaders. Seeing all that goes on in Washington -- and all the agencies and opportunities of a big city -- exposes young people to a “another level.”

“It opens their minds to the possibilities of things they can do,” Weaver said.

In Burke’s case, he’s had his eyes on bigger things for years. Burke said that his mother, Elvina Burke, has instilled a focus on civics and the voting process. As a result, Burke has long been intrigued by politics.

“I’ve been interested since I was small. I’ve always liked the thought of voting,” he said. “Once I get out of the military, if I go into the military, I plan on being a politician.”

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.