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Maria Puckett, a BMW Technical Scholar at Spartanburg Community College, was shocked to learn a short interview led to her having the chance to meet President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Puckett, 25, is a second-year student at SCC and is a former American Idol contestant. Last month, she was chosen to represent the BMW apprenticeship program during a White House meeting between the two world leaders.
What were you thinking when you found out you would be going to Washington, D.C.?
I was interviewing for something, but I didn’t know what. I’m on the phone with our Washington, D.C. office, answering questions like, ‘How would you feel about meeting someone really popular or famous?’ And I said, ‘Well, I got to hang out with J-Lo (Jennifer Lopez), Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler on American Idol, so I think I can handle myself just fine.’ The interview was over shortly after that, and I still don’t know why I’m there. I get a call the next day saying I got the position.
What was the meeting about?
It was basically about apprenticeship programs and international trade between the U.S. and Germany.
What was it like in that room?
Here comes everyone, proceeding in now, the president of the United States, the chancellor, Ivanka Trump, the vice president, everyone files in and sits at this large, round table. It was a breathtaking experience. Everybody kind of goes around the table, there’s an introduction speech from Trump, an introduction from Merkel, and everybody kind of gets to say their piece.
Did you speak with President Trump?
Trump was about to change the subject, and (Merkel) says, ‘President Trump, you have two other apprentices you haven’t gotten to meet.’ I think, ‘Wow, this is actually going to happen.’ We stand up and say who we’re representing, and (Trump) said, ‘Since everyone else got to speak, would you like to share something?’ I think, ‘Yes, oh, my goodness. This is actually going to happen.’ I go to stand up and the first thing that comes out of my mouth is, ‘Wow.’ What a crazy experience. How often can somebody sit here and address two of the most powerful people in the world. So, we all kind of shared this laugh.
What did you say?
I shared some of my story, that I’m a nontraditional college student and if it weren’t for this program, I wouldn’t have found out I was technically or mechanically inclined. Because of this program, I’ve been able to grow professionally and personally. At the end of that, Trump gets up and goes, ‘OK, kids, follow me, we’re going to take pictures.’ I said, ‘OK, I guess I’ll be a kid today.’
What were your takeaways from meeting Trump and Merkel?
Trump wasn’t a surprise. He’s famous. He is a celebrity like, reality-TV-kind-of-celebrity. Of course, he’s personable. He is exactly the way he is on TV. There’s no facade, like, what you see is what you get. He was really laid back, and when he asked us to speak, he actually listened and paid attention. He was extremely genuine in the fact that he made you feel like he cared you were there.
Chancellor Merkel, I knew very little about her and hadn’t seen much about her. She was extremely warm and welcoming and very soft spoken. She gave this aura of being really relaxed. There wasn’t any tension in the room, which was awesome.