An Isanti student can now say she’s formed a pen pal relationship with perhaps the most influential woman in the world: Michelle Obama.
Marissa Ann Gaslin, 11, who will be entering seventh-grade at Isanti Middle School, was sitting at home in Isanti the last week in June when she decided to try becoming pen pals with a celebrity. She had a few different options in mind, but decided on Obama.
“I thought the first lady was just as important as the president,” Marissa said. “And I knew the president probably receives many more letters than her, so I decided to write her the letter.”
A few weeks after mailing the letter, Marissa got a response.
“I received a personalized letter signed by the first lady, as well as two photographs of her, one family photograph, and a photograph of their dog,” Marissa said. “I also got a pamphlet titled, ‘Exploring the White House through the Arts.’ When I got the package in the mail, I was just ecstatic. I didn’t think they would even write back. This is definitely the most exciting thing to ever happen to me.”
In her letter to the first lady, Marissa wrote about her desire to become pen pals and described her favorite book, “The Phantom Tollbooth,” by Norton Juster. Even though Marissa mentioned she doesn’t have her own copy of the book, she tells the first lady the book “isn’t scary, but it’s funny and a pretty big play on words.”
In Obama’s response, she thanks Marissa for her letter and wrote, “Every American, no matter what age, has a special role to play in leading us to a better tomorrow. All the challenges we face have solutions, and we need your help to find them.”
Marissa’s grandmother, Bobbi Hain, said she didn’t even realize what her granddaughter was doing until she asked her to mail the letter to the White House.
“When I realized Marissa was writing the White House, I figured I better read the letter before mailing it,” Hain said. “Once I realized what the letter said, I decided to make a copy just in case we received a response. I was very impressed by her letter, and it was very well-written. I’m so glad she picked the first lady to have a pen pal relationship with.”
When Margaret Boege, media specialist at Isanti Intermediate School, heard about Marissa’s story a couple weeks ago, she decided to order Marissa her own copy of the 50th anniversary edition of “The Phantom Tollbooth,” and presented it to her Aug. 16.
“Marissa is such an avid reader and a model student, and we wanted to honor her joy of reading and learning, as well as her taking the initiative to reach out to the first lady to share her thoughts, hopes and dreams,” Boege said. “This is an example of how reading books opens up your world and provides you with ideas and knowledge about the world around you. The connections and opportunities that reading provides is priceless. We hope that Marissa continues to foster her love of reading, and we know that she will go on to do great and positive things.”
Isanti Intermediate School Principal Mark Ziebarth took part in the Aug. 16 presentation.
“Marissa is an avid reader and a delightful young lady who always wants to help others,” Ziebarth said. “I was amazed at the amount of time taken by Mrs. Obama to get the information to Marissa. It was a great moment for me as a principal. The personalization of the response was quite touching.”
“I always try to encourage my students to figure out what they’re interested in and find books that can teach them more about those things,” Boege said. “For example, if a student reads a book set in Italy, and then decides to visit Italy while in college, that’s a pretty rewarding feeling, and we hear stories such as this. I’m so proud of Marissa for taking on this initiative with the first lady and will share her example with other students this school year.”
Ziebarth gave much credit to Boege for promoting reading in the school.
“Mrs. Boege loves her job and loves to share her excitement with our students. She is a great example of the quality teachers we have in the Cambridge-Isanti School District,” Ziebarth said. “Sharing your love of reading with others is a great gift. Reading opens many doors and sometimes they even open doors to the president’s family. This is a great story that I hope encourages other students to reach out to other people to share their interests.”