U.S. presidents have been lighting the National Christmas Tree for nearly a century and this year, an SCA alumnus was at center stage for the festivities. Dylan Carrejo introduced Barack Obama just before the president flipped the switch for the eighth and final time. We spoke with Dylan about his unexpected role in this extraordinary event.
How were you chosen to introduce the president?
The lighting takes place at President’s Park and for the National Park Service Centennial, the Interior Department wanted a 21st Century Service Corps member, someone with national park experience. I was nominated by the Texas Conservation Corps (the home-state corps with whom Dylan most recently served) and it ended up being me.
When did you get word?
About three days before the event. I was visiting in L.A. when I got the phone call, hopped a red-eye, got to D.C. at about 7:30 in the morning and went straight into rehearsal. I met [Interior Secretary] Sally Jewell the next day at her office. She gave me a tour of the Interior building and from there we walked over to President’s Park in front of the White House.
Were all the entertainers there, too?
Yeah, we hung out in the VIP tent with a lot of famous people. I met the Lumineers, we had a conversation for a while. They were pretty cool. We talked about what I was doing there, some of my experiences, that was pretty much it. I spoke briefly with Chance the Rapper, and met [SCA CEO] Jaime Matyas.
What about the president?
We all got in line to meet the Obamas. I got my picture taken with the president and we sat in the front row. Mr. Obama was about five feet to my right.
Did you get to speak with him at all?
In the meeting line, I said “Hey, I’m Dylan. I’ll be introducing you.” It was pretty cool when I did introduce him. He hugged me and whispered in my ear “I’m so proud of you.”
How did the intro go?
It was a little nerve wracking. I read from teleprompter. I said I was there representing the 25,000 young people across the country who are working on our public lands, and that the work we do protects beautiful places and changes lives by giving young people like me by providing a sense of purpose, meaning, and value. I mentioned San Antonio Missions and Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, my SCA stop.
What was the best part?
That moment right after I finished my speech when the president hugged me and whispered in my ear. I’ll always remember that one. I have so much respect for the guy.
Did you get to sing with the first family?
Yeah, actually I did. At that point, I was ready to get off the stage, but we sang Jingle Bells and Feliz Navidad.
What kind of feedback have you been getting since?
I hadn’t told too many people about it because it was so last minute, but later I had people texting me “Oh, my god, that went so well! He hugged you!” Somebody told me I looked like a natural out there. I don’t know how that happened (laughs). My parents got to go, and they were really excited. Afterward we went out for a big old burger.
Is Christmas a big deal with your family?
Yeah, I always celebrate Christmas with family. My grandparents live in Albuquerque as well as a lot of my extended family, so we’ll meet out there again.
You’ll have some story to tell around the dinner table…
Yeah, it was pretty crazy.
Watch the tree lighting ceremony here. Dylan introduces the president at 45:30…