Pupils get a rare chance of a one-to-one with the Chinese leader
Chicago - Students and faculty members of Walter Payton College Preparatory High School on Friday had a chance to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao, who had worked with students and young people early in his career.
Andrew Chan asked Hu what were the differences and similarities between China and the United States.
Hu answered that although the countries have different social systems and are at different stages of economic development, the people are peace-loving and devoted to development.
The young people of both countries are also bright and in love with learning, he added
When Jarly Zeng asked why Hu chose to come to Walter Payton, Hu said he was drawn to the school because it prides itself as the cradle of "future leaders".
"But he also jokingly added that not everyone can become a leader," said Lu Wenya, a teacher in charge of Chinese and Japanese languages at the school.
There were also intimate moments. "President Hu asked me a lot of questions about my life and work here in Chicago," Lu said.
Lu, a graduate of Peking University, came to Chicago to teach 11 years ago after completing rigorous enrollment tests by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district.
The third-largest school district in the US, CPS supervises some 700 elementary and high schools. It introduced Chinese language into its world language programs in 1999. Lu and several other Chinese teachers joined the district to help develop and expand the Chinese program.
At first, only a few hundred students were learning Chinese. Now the number has grown to 12,000.
More students in the US are learning Chinese as a second language than anywhere else in the world. Some 100,000 Americans are learning Chinese at present, Xu Lin, head of Confucius Institute headquarters said, after Hu's visit.
"He thanked us for promoting Chinese language in Chicago, and we had the honor of having a picture taken with him," Lu said.
There were also lighter moments.
When Hu passed the members of the Sounds of Sweetness - the a capella choral ensemble that sang "Come and go with me" upon Hu's arrival - the Chinese president asked them what their blue Number 34 American football suits represented.
The suits represented Walter Payton, the students answered. Who is Walter Payton?
"We told him Walter Payton is our idol," 11th-grader Will Brennan-Arffmann told China Daily.
Walter Payton (1954-1999) was once the most famous American football running back.
"Then the Chinese president told us that we should try to become the next Walter Payton," he said.
Both at the Chinese language class and at the school auditorium, Hu told the students to value their time, enrich their knowledge and lay firm foundations for their future life.
"I completely agree with President Hu's remarks," Montana Fredrick, a junior who gave the presentation at the Chinese language class, told China Daily, adding that he "enjoy taking challenging courses and studying other languages to not only enrich my knowledge but to lay a solid foundation for becoming a leader in the global community."
At the Chinese language class, student Amanda Bonson presented Hu with a special Happy New Year card that the students created for the Chinese president.
In return, Hu gave Bonson a stuffed white rabbit, promising the rest of the class that they would also get a stuffed rabbit each, to commemorate the lunar Year of the Rabbit which arrives in less than two weeks.
Hu brought other gifts in return for his hosts' warm hospitality, including a collection of books and multimedia software.
He said the multimedia software would allow students to browse any topic about China at a click.
The most exciting gift that Hu left with the school is an invitation to 20 students and faculty members to visit China this summer.
"All our students are good, so it will be difficult to make the selection," Lu said.
The Chinese president's visit left a deep impression on the students and faculty members.
Mike Hermes, the school's assistant principal, said: "I love that he took the time to listen to the students and their programs."
"Hu seemed to be genuinely interested in what we had to say and offer," Fredrick said. "It is not everyday that a major world leader comes to visit your school because of the many accolades, and I was very glad that he was able to attend."
Terry Mazany, chief executive officer for the Chicago Public Schools district, said Hu's visit sets the future course of Chinese language teaching programs, emphasizing the fact that his school district is running the largest program for Chinese as a second language.
"We recognize that all of the Chicago children are part of the global community. They will be interacting with people around the world," Mazany said.