MU student earns chance to decorate White House

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Photo courtesy of Jordan Calgaro.

Everyone has his or her own take on a Christmas wish list. For Marquette student Jordan Calgaro, the first item on his list was to decorate the White House, and his “Santa” was none other than the first lady herself.

Calgaro, a sophomore in the College of Communication, wrote a series of letters to Michelle Obama from January to March in hopes of being selected to decorate for the holidays. He said he was in disbelief upon receiving confirmation in October.

“Design has always been a passion of mine, and obviously I love Christmas,” Calgaro said. “I was shocked when I received confirmation so soon … hundreds of people write their entire lives and never hear anything back.”

Calgaro joined a decorating crew of 97 individuals from 29 states. Volunteers ranged from common individuals to professional designers, and Calgaro said he was proud to be included.

“The designers weren’t superior to us,” he said. “All the volunteers had an equal opportunity, and we all contributed to the finished decor of the house.”

Decorating began at 7 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving and continued through Tuesday. The first two days were spent in a warehouse sorting ornaments, packaging decorations and constructing garland and wreaths. Sunday marked the volunteers’ first steps into the White House.

Calgaro’s entire family joined him in Washington, D.C.. His sister, Courtney Calgaro, a sophomore in the College of Nursing, said it was an exciting experience for the family.

“It was an opportunity of a lifetime for him, and I am very proud of his accomplishment,” she said. “It was so cool to stand outside the gate and see my own brother waving back to me from the front porch of the White House.”

This year’s theme was “Simple Gifts,” with all decorations re-used, donated or made from common materials. The Green Room featured 75 pounds of recycled newspaper and trees made of magazines. Wreaths around the House were made of 2,850 pieces of fruit.

Calgaro was assigned to the state dining room and decorated one of two trees for an entire day. He also created a pinecone garland for the grand staircase and foyer.

Not only did Calgaro enjoy decorating, but he also took advantage of his opportunity to explore.

“Obviously we all worked very hard, but being able to take a moment and look through all of the rooms — the history — without a guard looking over your shoulder was amazing,” he said. “At one point, I was standing in the library and thought, ‘How is this happening to me? … I need to wake up from this dream.’”

The dream continued on Wednesday when all 97 volunteers were invited to a “revealing party” in which the decor was finally shown to visitors. During the party, the first lady personally thanked each volunteer for their efforts.

Remembering his experience, Calgaro said he knew he would be proud of his work, but didn’t realize how much more of the opportunity he would appreciate.

“It goes beyond just decorating a tree,” he said. “It was the chance to meet 97 people with different backgrounds from all across the country and work together toward one goal … I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate the true spirit of Christmas.”

**HGTV will air their annual White House Christmas special on Dec. 12**

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