Alum's Teaching Dream Pays Off with Visit to White House, Pres. Obama

White-Ditton students recite for president

For Darlene White-Dottin, being a teacher is the highest achievement, something she had dreamed about as a child growing up in Bertie County, North Carolina. So when the now-retired educator and 1978 Elizabeth City State University graduate found herself and 18 of her elementary school students in a private audience with Pres. Barack Obama, that moment was a culmination of a lifelong love affair with teaching.

The meeting took place in February 2012, during Black History Month. It was the result of years of working with her Boston, Massachusetts students, teaching them to memorize an abbreviated version of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream speech.” It was significant since White-Dottin’s childhood dream of teaching had come true, and the moments when her students recited the speech, they reflected that dream.

“All I ever wanted to be was a teacher,” said White-Dottin.

White-Dottin says coming to ECSU to become an educator was a natural fit. Although the institution had become designated as a university in 1969, it was still known as a training ground for teachers, formerly Elizabeth City State Teachers College.

“And ECSU prepared me for that,” said White-Dottin of her teaching career.

After graduation, White-Dottin went to Boston to spend the summer with family. It was there that her first teaching opportunity presented itself, and she never left the New England city.

Eventually White-Dottin would find herself teaching in a poverty stricken school where student performance was low. It was a challenge she gladly accepted since bringing kids up through education was always her dream.

Boston Public Schools began funding the school and changed the curriculum to a performing arts focused program. Those factors began to bear fruit and students began to thrive and the school became what she said is referred to as a “turnaround school.”

And in the midst of all that change and positive growth, White-Dottin decided to teach her students Dr. King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech.

At first her students would recite the speech in the school, in the classroom. Eventually they would take the recital to various programs. That led to two recitals in front of now-former Massachusetts Gov. Daval Patrick.

“He was in tears,” recalled White-Dottin.

During the second recital before the governor, White-Dottin recalled how one of her students told Patrick that her dream was to recite the speech for Pres. Obama. The teacher had no idea how prophetic that student’s declaration would be.

White-Dottin was in her classroom teaching when she was summoned to the principal’s office to take a phone call. That call, she quickly discovered, was an invitation for her and her students to visit the White ouseHouseHouse and recite the speech.

The ECSU graduate and veteran teacher recalled that she and her students arrived at the White House, under the impression that they would be participating in a program, one that included the recital. That, however, was not the case.

“We had 30-to-40 minutes alone with the President of the United States,” she said.

White-Dottin says the kids received hugs from Pres. Obama. She said each of her students left the White House with a “sense of pride because they did something that would take them to the White House.”

“I always tell them to dream big,” said White-Dottin.