We are home. The time in DC was so amazing that I’m actually having a time absorbing it all. I came back to running embraces and tons-o-kisses from my kids, and it is good to be home. And a little bit hard to know that the poetry-love-fest is over.

There were so many highlights on the last day that it feels like 4 days. Here is the recap.

We started Tuesday with a tour of the White House which was very cool, but I saw not one Obama, not even the dog, and they prohibited cameras, to which I said, “Hello People…I have a blog!”

No luck. Just trust me that it is gorgeous and awe-inspiring to think of all the people who have walked those floors and sat in those rooms.

Then, we went to a Congressional Luncheon on Capital Hill. Will’s mom thinks it is cute and funny that I always take pictures of food, so she wanted to take a picture of me with the lunch buffet. Funny, right?

Each student had hopes of meeting either their senators or a congressperson. Some senators popped into the luncheon to meet their student and family. We had a special situation: BOTH senators and our congressman wanted to meet Will privately in their offices! As it turned out, we had to cancel the meeting with Senator Olympia Snowe because it conflicted with the time Will had to be on the bus for the night’s competition. So we were escorted off to meet with Senator Collins (in case you don’t know, Maine has two female senators who are both Republicans).

We went into the Senate office building and found our way here.

But alas, Susan Collins was delayed, and was still in the Capital building. We thought that meant we wouldn’t meet her. Instead, it meant that her assistant whisked us down into the tunnels that connect the Senate and Representative Office buildings with the Capital, and took us TO Senator Collins.

This is the tram that takes the Senators back and forth through the underground tunnels to the Capital. We were told several times that students “never get to do this.”

Just before we got on the tram, Will and I looked at each other, and at the man walking past us. John McCain. (no photo, it happened too fast)

On our way to find Senator Collins, we walked past groups of Senators whispering in the hallways, the place all abuzz about the very recent announcement that Senator Specter had just switched from a Republican to a Democrat.

Oh, there’s Senator Dodd.

And here is Senator Collins, from Maine. She was gracious and lovely to Will, and after chatting a bit about Poetry Out Loud, and gushing over his having made the top 12, she asked Will to recite a poem.

And right there in the Capital, amidst the hustle and bustle of VIPs whisking around, Will gave her “Mingus at the Showplace” by William Matthews.

I kept thinking: I hope Will realizes how huge this is. And as we walked away, I know he did realize. He was so excited.

Okay, so I was seriously in the hunt for any Obama, or Hillary Clinton, to no avail, though I learned when I got back to the hotel that she and Michelle Obama were in the Capital when we were, unveiling the bust of Sojourner Truth. Bummer.

I was wowed by even this:

The door through which Obama stepped onto the balcony to give his inaugural address, where all of our eyes were glued and waiting.

Next stop: Congressman Michaud’s office:

Another poem recitation!

Next stop, for Will: head over to Lisner Auditorium for debriefing and dinner before the show.
Next stop, for me: walk around the city a little and get sushi for dinner and soak in my last summery evening in DC.

And then, it was this, the grand finale: The introduction of all 53 finalists (that’s 50 states + DC+ Virgin Islands + Puerto Rico). And the show began.

I love that Scott Simon (who hosted the event) already, but his charming, funny, and gracious tone added so much to the already exciting evening. Here are the top 12:

My Will did not win, but that actually didn’t seem to matter. The 12 finalists were all so good, and I was so moved after every single performance, that I didn’t think there was any way the judges could ever decide on one winner. But of course, they did. The winner was totally and completely deserving and turned out to be one of the kids we had gotten to know the best: Will from Virginia. At the opening banquet, we were all seated with Will from Virginia and his awesome family. We called him “our other Will” all weekend and were proud to track his success. His reaction to winning (the title and the $20,000) was one of my favorite moments of the whole thing.

He cried, I cried, everyone cried.

He hugged his dad… I’m still crying.

While my Will and I waited for Garrison Keillor to finish chatting with some other finalists, I took this shot of his famous red shoes.

This was a moment that Will had hoped for after first qualifying for the event and hearing that Garrison Keillor was a judge. This is the BIGGEST, brightest smile you will get out of Will.

I’m still riding the high of this experience that I’ll probably never have again (though, trust me, I’m going to try). The camaraderie between the kids and the teachers and the Poetry Out Loud staff was a beautiful, beautiful thing.

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