Posted by Rachel Meade
It would be difficult to argue that participation in the McDermott Scholars Program does not come with perks, and of the many things we are offered, my favorite bar-none are the opera, symphony, ballet, and theater tickets. Spending a night at the Dallas Symphony gives us, who as college students have little reason to dress up, an opportunity to eat delicious Dallas cuisine and experience music and art, all the while looking our best. Thanks to the generosity of Mr. & Mrs. Peter O’Donnell, Jr., we also have been given tickets to their box seats at the opera and symphony for select performances, which is always a wonderful experience.
For those of you who haven’t been following the blog, we recently held our annual McDermott Finalists’ Weekend in order to select the new class of incoming Scholars. I would highly encourage checking out Joanna Haug’s blog post about the weekend if you’re interested. On Sunday, the last day of the weekend, I was responsible for running one of the team activities during the problem-solving segment. It was a blast, and immediately after saying goodbye to the Finalists, I jumped into the car with Matara Hitchcock (’14 Scholar) to head to the Winspear Opera House in Dallas for a matinee performance of the French opera Manon. We both had decided to use the O’Donnell tickets for this performance, so we were seated in Box K, which is situated in the middle of the first balcony. The seats could not be more perfect.
As we sat down, I tried to settle from the excitement of Finalists’ Weekend and prepare myself for the opera. I took in the familiar beauty of the famous Winspear chandelier and stage, which was all set for the audience to see. I began to read through the libretto, refreshing myself on the storyline of the tragedy before the opera began. What followed was the story of a young girl whose desires led her in pursuit of both true love and copious wealth. She discovers that she cannot have both without paying with her life. The cast did a fantastic job, and I would highly recommend the opera if it is performed again.
About an act into the performance, the door in the box next to us opened, and who should enter but Margaret McDermott herself, looking sharp as usual. Matara and I decided that we must say hello to her after the performance, so once the opera ended, we followed her out of the box area. As we were about to greet her, I noticed someone approach her. The woman looked very familiar, and as she introduced herself to Mrs. McDermott, I was star struck. She reached a hand out to our benefactress, and said “Hello, Mrs. McDermott! I’m Laura Bush. I just wanted to say hello. Wasn’t the opera lovely?” Matara and I looked at each other in disbelief as we watched the former First Lady have a brief conversation with Mrs. McDermott before departing through a special exit from the building with her three Secret Service men.
As we spoke to Mrs. McDermott after the encounter, we were reminded of not only how influential she is but also how kind and down-to-earth she is, and how lucky we are to carry her and her husband’s name. She asked us about our studies. We asked her about her recent 104th birthday. She invited us to her ranch to see the spring wildflowers. We told her about our summer goals, and she introduced us to some of her friends. Speaking to Mrs. McDermott is always a pleasure, and I personally always come away feeling so blessed. Without this program, I would not have seen Laura Bush in the flesh, I would not have had box seats at Manon, and it can be left to debate whether I would have been able to go to the opera at all. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have through the program, and I cannot wait to see what new adventures the next three years have in store.