Hundreds of Annandale High School students greeted Michelle Obama and the first lady of South Korea on Thursday morning with a standing ovation, thundering applause and a few excited shrieks.
“Having her here is pretty much a big deal,” junior Mindy Vo, 16, said of Obama’s visit. “It’s just something that doesn’t usually happen at Annandale.”
The first ladies’ excursion took them to an inside-the-Beltway community that serves as a hub of Korean American life in the Washington area. The tour was part of an official state visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his wife, Kim Yoon-ok, who were guests of honor at a White House state dinner Thursday night.
Annandale High is among Fairfax County’s most diverse schools, with no majority racial or ethnic group. Its students come from families that hail from more than 90 countries and speak more than 50 languages.
The school boasts a rigorous International Baccalaureate program and posts high scores on state math and reading tests, but students said they rarely receive the kind of attention showered on their renowned neighbor four miles away, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
A visit from two first ladies felt like a validation, students said. “It is something that will really put us on the map,” said Anne Curran, 17, a senior and co-editor of the student newspaper. “Annandale deserves that, because it’s kind of a gem.”
Flanked by students in the school’s gymnasium, the two first ladies were treated to performances meant to highlight the school’s multicultural character.
They were serenaded by the World Children’s Choir. They watched local teens perform Korean folk songs and Ethiopian dances, and they listened to Grammy-nominated violinist Jennifer Koh.
Koh — wearing a sleeveless dress that, it must be said, showed off triceps rivaling Obama’s — played a solo sonata by Belgian composer Eugene Ysaye that was alternately frenetic and meditative.
Her performance brought loud approval from students, many of whom said they had never before heard of Ysaye nor the Korean American virtuoso. They stomped on gym bleachers to show their appreciation.
“I was speechless,” 16-year-old junior David Pineda said.
“She made sounds that I didn’t even know a violin could make,” said freshman Mercy Anti, 14.
Obama gave a short speech, simultaneously translated into Korean, urging the teens to find and follow their passions. Koh is a “perfect example” of someone who has done just that, she said.
“There’s so much diversity here, such breadth of experience in your student body,” Obama said. “This is the perfect place for you to find out who you are and what you want to become, and that’s really what education is all about.”
After the assembly in Annandale’s cafeteria, students originally from Vietnam and Paraguay shared lunch tables with those hailing from Morocco and the Philippines.
A Lebanese junior talked about his plan to build an accounting business and move back to his home country. A Korean senior spoke about his plan to study biomedical engineering at Stanford, Harvard or MIT.
And students from many countries crowed about their brush with Obama.
“Once you see her, you’re like, oh my God. She’s right there!” said Alisa Askovic, a junior with each fingernail painted a different color of the rainbow. “She’s real!”