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The Night I Sat In The Oval Office

Sonny Melendrez - Rita Moreno - White House Hispanic Heritage Awards - 1990

On the evening of September 23, 1990, I sat in the Oval Office. Yes, the office of the President of the United States!

My visit to Washington was one of several invitations to host the White House Hispanic Heritage Awards. That year, my co-host was the legendary award-winning performer, Rita Moreno. (She was the first to have received an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony Award!)

The night before the event, a dear friend of mine, who was a speech writer for the President, asked if I would like a personal tour of the White House.

“Are you kidding?!”

I remember giving the Marine, at the guard gate, my driver’s license and after checking his database, we were given clearance.

It was late and most of the staff had gone home. As we walked the halls, my friend pointed out various paintings and artifacts. Then as we approached the President’s office and peeked inside, I asked, “Can we go in?”

“Sure.”

Glancing around the room, I was told about the rare gifts on display that had been given by other world leaders.

Then, with my friend’s nod of approval, I slowly walk around the world’s most famous desk and sat in the chair of the President of the United States.

In that surreal moment, I thought about how many presidents had been in this very spot and made world-changing decisions.

Suddenly, a guard stood at the door and announced that we would have to leave the building due to an “arrival.” The President was to arrive by helicopter.

My head was still spinning about what had just happened as we walked off the grounds.

The next day, prior to the star-studded gala, honoring some of the nations most accomplished Hispanic Americans, we were invited to a reception on the South Lawn of the White House. There I stood with dignitaries, including President George H. W. Bush.

His last words were,”Please feel free to walk the grounds and enjoy this beautiful day in Washington. We are honored to have you as our guests.”

As I stood on the lush lawn, facing the back of the White House, I heard my name called.

“Sonny! Are you Sonny Melendrez?”

A man came running towards me and explained that he was from San Antonio and big fan of my radio show.

Could life get any better? Moments ago I had stood with the President, last night I sat in his chair, tonight I will work with Rita Moreno, and now a fan recognizes me…this is incredible!

Then something happened that put everything in perspective.

The man asked if I would be so kind to meet his family and take a picture.

“Of course!”

As we approached his wife and children he introduced us and then…handed me his camera.

Life has such a way of letting you know when you’re feeling more important than you really are.