The Sunday before President Barack Obama arrived in Chattanooga on Tuesday, July 30, Amazon executives approached UTC communication alumna and Amazon employee Lydia Flanders ‘06 and asked if she wanted to introduce the Chief Executive.
“I would love to do it, YES, I’ll do it,” Flanders replied immediately.
She only had a few days to write the speech and to be nervous. “I wasn’t nervous about the speech, my nerves were about meeting President Obama. I wanted to meet him, and I knew when I did, everything would be fine,” she explained.
On the big day, Flanders made sure her three young children were in the audience, as was her husband, who, like Flanders, worked his way into a leadership position in Amazon. She waited backstage, her hands clutching her notes. President Obama rounded the corner with a big smile and said, “Hey, Lydia!”
“The first thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘Can I have a hug?’ and he gave me a big hug! We talked about family and chatted for a few minutes. Then it was time for me to go on stage, and the President said ‘Break a leg!’” Flanders said, smiling.
As her story poured out on the stage before her Amazon colleagues, reporters, and invited guests, Flanders’s explained that both she and her husband lost their jobs during the recent recession. They were hired as seasonal workers at the facility in 2012 and soon were promoted. Flanders described what happened in her life to provide encouragement for anyone else who may be struggling, she said. The crowd responded with many rounds of applause. She introduced President Obama, who gave her another hug onstage.
When she waded into the crowd, the first thing a colleague told her: “you’re a rock star.”
“People have asked me to autograph the newspaper. My speech was on YouTube. People have contacted me on Facebook from other countries,” Flanders said
When the President met Flanders’ daughter, whose name is pronounced the same way as his daughter’s, he asked Maliyah Flanders to stand by him for a picture taken by a White House staffer. The four-year-old was happy about that, because she told her mother she wanted the President to know her name.
“This entire experience has been unreal. Very exciting, very humbling,” Flanders said.