NU students win scholarship at White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Lauren Caruba

Two Medill graduate students met President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Saturday when they received the Deborah Orin Scholarship from the White House Correspondents’ Association.

Jenna Barnes and Ben Kesling both received scholarships, a $5,000 journalism award established in 2007 to commemorate the former White House press corps member and Medill alumna.

Barnes and Kesling were two of 16 students who received scholarships this year from the White House Correspondents’ Association, totaling $132,200, this past weekend. The White House Correspondents’ Association, established in 1914, promotes journalism education through annual scholarships awarded to college students and a partnership with Prime Movers Media, which provides funding to high school programs in the Washington, D.C. area.

Both students said they were surprised to be selected as Deborah Orin scholars, who are nominated collectively by Medill faculty members.

“If you had asked me two months ago if I was going to meet the president and the first lady, I would have told you that you were crazy,” Barnes said.

Barnes received her undergraduate degree from Boston University, where she majored in anthropology and minored in journalism. Barnes previously interned at the London bureau of ABC News and the local CBS affiliate near her hometown of Norfolk, Va. She will be completing Medill’s Washington, D.C. program this summer.

Kesling, 32, completed his undergraduate career at Wabash College. He served as an Infantry Officer in the United States Marine Corps for six and a half years, completing tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq, before deciding to become a journalist. This summer he will be interning for Dow Jones in Chicago.

Barnes and Kesling met the Obamas twice on Saturday, first at the VIP reception for scholarship recipients and again when they officially received their awards onstage during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Saturday evening.

“I think it was the most excited I’ve been in my life,” said 22-year-old Barnes. “He was the most gracious person I ever met. Both he and the first lady were so down-to-earth.”

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner historically attracts numerous celebrities and public figures. In addition to the Obamas, Barnes said she met Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, talk show host Jimmy Kimmel and David Gregory from NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

On Friday, Barnes and Kesling attended the Scholarship Lunch that featured a discussion panel of White House reporters and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

The panel included Jake Tapper of ABC News, Carol Lee of The Wall Street Journal, Ben Feller of Associated Press and Jackie Kucinich of USA Today. Carney and the reporters discussed press access and reporting on candidates.

Michael Scherer, board member for the White House Correspondents’ Association and White House correspondent for TIME Magazine, said the panel discussion shed light on the relationship between the White House and reporters.

“There was a pretty lively back and forth between reporters who cover the White House and Jay Carney, who deals with reporters who cover the White House,” Scherer sad.

At the luncheon, scholars had the opportunity to meet with members of the White House Correspondents’ Association. Kesling said the highlight of his trip was being able to talk with journalists at the luncheon.

“They’re interesting people,” Kesling said. “It was really great to interact with working journalists and talk to them about their craft and what it is they do.”

However, Kesling was already familiar with the person he was seated next to at the luncheon – a marine who served with him during a deployment in Iraq.

“I think the future’s bright for journalism, at least in terms of the talent,” Scherer said.

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