NWU senior sits down with president

When the U.S. State Department selected Lesley Dudden, a senior political science and global studies major from Venango, Neb., to attend the 2010 G8 and G20 summits in Canada as a junior delegate, she knew it was a rare opportunity. (She was one of only seven such American delegates.) But she had no idea her summit experience would include a 30-minute personal conversation with the president of the United States.

Hobnobbing with world leaders hadn’t been on her agenda. She attended the summits to debate some of the world’s most challenging issues—including nuclear nonproliferation and terrorism—with her peers from around the world.

I was barely able to speak English with President Obama, let alone speak Turkish with the Turkish prime minister!

“It was very real,” Dudden said of the talks. “You weren’t debating with someone who was pretending the issue affected them. You were debating with people who were directly affected.”

The seven U.S. delegates were told one evening that two of them would have the opportunity to meet President Obama. Dudden and the others agreed that pulling names from a hat would be the fairest way to select the lucky two.

“I was elated when my name was pulled,” Dudden said. “But I didn’t know it meant I would actually meet him one-on-one.” She imagined a scenario lasting seconds where she would be allowed to shake the president’s hand as he moved on to his next engagement.

Obama asked Dudden where she went to school. When she answered NWU, he said he remembered giving a lecture on campus in the mid-90s. (September 9, 1994, to be exact. See spring 2009 Archways, “Forum for a Future President.”) Dudden outlined her experience at the summit and as a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholar studying Turkish in Alanya, Turkey. The president was impressed. “I was not doing this stuff when I was your age,” he said.

Eager to hear Dudden speak Turkish, the president escorted her to meet the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was also attending the summit. “I was barely able to speak English with President Obama, let alone speak Turkish with the Turkish prime minister!” Dudden said.

Dudden’s experience at the summits aligns with her interests. “I have a fascination with people and power, particularly internationally,” she said. “I’m intrigued with the Condoleezza Rices and Rahm Emanuels. I’m interested in the diplomats who make the connections. And, hopefully, my story of meeting President Obama will open a few more doors."

That is, assuming they believe her. “Even when I was on the plane flying home I kept thinking, ‘Did this really happen?’”