West Philly High student to sit with Michelle Obama at State of the Union speech

Brandon Ford gets a second chance to hear the president, at the State of the Union.
Brandon Ford gets a second chance to hear the president, at the State of the Union.
Posted: January 25, 2011

Four members of the West Philly Hybrid X Team, which gained national attention last year for performing unexpectedly well in an international fuel-efficiency contest for cars, had been invited to see President Obama announce a new math and science initiative on Sept. 16.

Three members made it into the White House.

Brandon Ford, the fourth member, forgot to bring his West Philadelphia High School ID, so he wasn't even allowed to enter the White House grounds.

What happened to his ID?

"He's a teenager," said a laughing Simon Hauger, the team's director. "He felt terrible and we felt bad."

The White House, however, did not forget him.

Last week, Ford got a call from Obama's science and technology adviser, John P. Holdren, inviting him to sit with Michelle Obama during her husband's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

"It was just a normal day, and I got a call around 6 o'clock cordially inviting me to the State of the Union address," Ford, 18, said Monday night.

Ford and his mother, Linda Jackson, 49, will take an 8:15 a.m. train to Washington, he said. He is scheduled to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Holdren.

Later in the day, Ford will finally be allowed into the White House to visit the East Wing and possibly meet the president, he said. From there, he will be taken to the Capitol Building for the speech.

He said that he was nervous but that he felt he'd "been blessed," especially since he thought he would never get a chance to visit the White House or meet the president after what happened in September.

"It's a lot to process," he said.

In 2009, the West Philly Hybrid X Team entered the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize contest to build a car that gets 100 miles to the gallon.

The team, consisting mainly of students from the high school's Academy of Automotive and Mechanical Engineering, built a Ford Focus that got 65 miles to the gallon.

The team was the only group of high schoolers to enter the contest, which included competitors from Ivy League universities, automakers, and entrepreneurs.

Out of the 111 entrants, the West Philly Hybrid X Team made it to the final 21 before being cut.

The team made such an impression that, even though it lost, it was invited to the final awards ceremony.

While the team was in Washington for the ceremony, the White House asked that four students be selected to attend the unveiling of Obama's "Change the Equation" program.

The clean-car ride won't end with the State of the Union address.

The winner of the $5 million grand prize, Oliver Kuttner, also was impressed and invited the team to build an electric version of his winning design.

To learn more about the team, visit its website: www.evxteam.org/

Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.

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