Take President Obama’s recent visit to Seattle for example.
The Woodinville woman wanted to meet the president, but the $1,000 a plate cost to hear him speak at one of the hotels in town was definitely not in her budget.
She knew, though, that he was also going to make an appearance at the Boeing plant.
Collins-McKiernan put in a call to the Democratic Party office in Seattle and that same day she heard back from “someone with authority,” who inquired as to the specific reason for her request.
“They asked me why it was important for me to meet the president,” says Collins-McKiernan. “I told them the truth, explaining that my son Jede, who is a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, joined up the same day President Obama was inaugurated into office. I remember thinking at the time that I was so proud of my son. I also remember that President Obama’s grandma passed away the day before he was elected back in that November and I imagined that she couldn’t have been more proud of her grandson than I was of my son.”
She adds, “I felt this common thread and it really made me want to meet the President and shake his hand.”
The local woman got her wish and much more.
Once at the Boeing plant, after passing through security, she stood waiting along with the rest of the crowd for several hours.
During that time, she made her way toward the front and noticed a roped-off area that she assumed was for “special” guests — those who would actually meet the president face-to-face.
“I wanted to be in there,” says Collins-McKiernan, “so I asked if it would be possible for me to get closer. A Secret Service person then came over and spoke with me and I explained my reasons to him.
“He told me to stay put and then shortly later he returned and led me right over in front of the president’s podium. I was so jazzed because there was nothing between me and the president.”
Collins-McKiernan was impressed with President Obama’s speech, noting his command of public speaking, as well as his charismatic presence.
When he concluded his remarks and began walking through the throng of people, she held up her phone, which had a picture of her son.
The president went to shake her hand, at which time Collins-McKiernan told him about Jede, mentioning that he was currently serving on the USS Abraham Lincoln in Bahrain.
President Obama then asked an aide to give him a presidential coin, which was subsequently placed into the center of his palm.
“I believe there’s significance to this,” says Collins-McKiernan. “The coin has to be passed from one person to another in a certain way – like a special ritual.” She adds, “The president did the same thing when he gave the coin to me, but then he put his hand over mine, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Please give this to your son and tell him the commander in chief thanks him for his service.’ I got what I call mom tears because I was so proud and touched, and then the president leaned over and hugged me.”
She adds, “It was incredible that he took the time to be so personal, and it was obvious to me that he really cares about those kids over there. They’re important to him and he truly appreciates what they’re doing. He’s such a genuine and kind man.”
The local woman describes the interaction as an emotionally powerful experience and sees the president’s gesture as an acknowledgement of not only her son’s service to his country, but of her as a military mom.
She is saving the coin for her son’s return and plans to give it to him using the same protocol as it was given to her by the president.
“I don’t even know what the coin is actually worth,” comments Collins-McKiernan. “To me, it’s priceless — the gift of a lifetime.”