Local college student’s speech of a lifetime
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For Sarah Riviere-Herzan, it was a walk to remember.
"I feel like my heart was beating outside of my chest the whole time and I couldn’t breathe," she laughs.
There she was, on stage at her school — the Dakota County Technical College — giving an introductory speech for the leader of the free world.
"Thank you so much," she told the audience Tuesday. "I am so happy to have this opportunity to welcome President Biden to my home state as well as my school."
Days later, sitting in her new house in Savage, Sarah says it was an occasion she’ll never forget.
"Definitely number one," she declares. "There’s nothing that could beat that, standing next to the president on the stage, being able to share my story."
In the audience was her proud mom.
"Slightly overwhelming, extremely heartfelt, extremely proud, and teary-eyed," Yvonne Herzan says quietly. "I would have never picked my crazy little three-year-old growing up to be talking to the president."
Sarah, who’s 21, and a first-year student at DCTC, might have been asking "how did I get here?"
And so might you.
Truth be told, all of this began with an unusual phone call from her faculty advisor.
"He was like, ‘hey, I need you to come to the school,’ and I was like, ‘it’s Sunday, I’m packing my U-Haul right now,’" Sarah recalls.
She says she was literally moving into her new house.
Then came a mysterious assignment.
"He just told me there was an event going on Tuesday, and they want to talk to you about being a speaker, and I was like ‘okay, sounds good,’" Sarah says. "They didn’t tell me anything until Monday. That’s when I found out the President of the United States is coming to my school."
So who would you call when you got word of a daunting assignment?
"I called my mom right away and I’m like, guess what I’m doing?" Sarah remembers. "And she just started bawling, crying. Adrenaline kicked in. I said, ‘I can do this.’"
Recovering from the initial shock, mother and daughter got to work.
"I was actually unpacking my kitchen and moving," Sarah smiles. "My mom had my computer open and I was just spitting out words and she was typing it and making actual sentences and everything."
"I sat at the desk and said tell me about this, because she had a script of bullet points I should say," Herzan adds.
In the middle of this, there were phone calls from White House speechwriters, tweaking the speech.
Working together, they came up with this:
"I enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard on my 17th birthday," Sarah told the VIP audience, who filled the room with applause.
Sarah talked about her five years in the National Guard: serving in Kuwait for a year, working in a maintenance section keeping generators, Humvees, and other military vehicles running smoothly.
And she spoke about her dreams of opening up her own business someday.
"Once I get this degree, I’m hoping to start my own heavy construction equipment company and hire a whole female team," she read.
Just beforehand, there were a few moments with Mr. Biden.
"He gave me the reassurance like you can do this, don’t worry about it," Sarah recalls the president saying. "’It’s not every day you’re standing right next to me.’ Like that’s very true Mr. President."
Later, Sarah and Herzan exchanged an emotional hug.
There was even a presidential selfie for mom.
"He gave me the ultimate compliment of what a wonderful young lady she is, and I must be very proud," Herzan says.
Sarah says meeting the president was an honor and in her words, "an amazing experience."
She’s planning to re-enlist in the Guard in January, serving another six years.
Sarah hopes to earn a business or construction management degree, and then start her own contracting business — an all-woman team that would go to job sites to fix mechanical issues with construction equipment and heavy-duty machines.
"She’s a fierce woman and I feel like she’s going to conquer the world,” Herzan says.
For Sarah, this has been a chance to reflect on her life, her service in the Guard, and her hopes for the future.
"Every time I wake up in the morning, or going to drill, I start getting ready, always making sure my hair is good. I’m actually doing this. This is my life now," she says. "I just want to be that kind of like, someone to look up to — ‘if she can do it, I can do it,’ kind of thing."