Ms. Vernetta R. Willett at the White House

ima-student-stories-whitehouseMeet talented and passionate Vernetta R. Willett, student in the Individualized Master of Arts (IMA) Program at Antioch University Midwest, where she explores how music education enhances literacy development in Middle Schoolers. Ms. Willett shared with us her remarkable story of performing for President and Mrs. Obama at the White House in December 2012.

Ms. Willett’s journey to the White House began when she took an independent study with Professor Jeremy Winston, a musician and teacher Ms. Willett describes as “phenomenal.” Mr. Winston spotted Ms. Willetts’ gifts soon and took her under his wing. As she put it, he began to “see how much he could pull out of me, here at Antioch as well as being part of the chorale.” By July of 2012, Mr. Winston had hand-selected 20 talented musicians to be in a new chorale, and they competed at the World Choir Games in Cincinnati that month. This fledgling chorale took the gold medal in the Gospel category! They also won two silver medals, and thus their adventure began.

The Jeremy Winston Chorale went on tour in December of 2012. This tour included a performance at the White House on December 18, during one of the many Christmas celebrations hosted there. After the Chorale performed their first set, they were taken to the lower level of the White House. The White House aide, assigned to accompany them for their day at the White House, said, “You need to come with me.” The Chorale members had not expected to meet the President—but when they were taken to a large room with the Presidential seal, they had a feeling they were about to do so! Since the shootings at the elementary school in Connecticut had occurred days prior Professor Winston decided they would perform an inspirational and haunting piece, “Set Me As A Seal.” Ms. Willett said she experienced the moment when the President and First Lady entered as “surreal.” As the Chorale members began to sing, the President did not move. He finally reached for his wife, she leaned into him, and they immersed themselves in the magic of this heavenly musical performance.

Afterwards, Ms. Willett shook the President’s hand. As Mrs. Obama reached to shake her hand, Ms. Willett said to her, “God bless you and your entire family.” The First Lady graciously took both of Ms. Willett’s hands in hers, leaned toward her and said, “God bless you.” The Chorale then returned to the East Wing corridor, to complete their day of providing entertainment for White House guests—a day that was nothing less than momentous for the members of the Jeremy Winston Chorale.

Ms. Willett credits the IMA program with setting events in motion that led to this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. She is also grateful for the unique opportunities the IMA program affords its students. “Where else could I take music and literacy, two of my passions, and combine them to earn a master’s degree?” Now, in part thanks to her IMA program, Ms. Willett is a member of an award-winning musical ensemble that will compete again in the 2014 World Choir Games in Riga, Latvia. We at Antioch University Midwest wish them well!