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Medill Student Shares White House 'Tall Tale'

Northwestern student David Rivelli contemplated writing a story about the perils of being tall in Washington D.C. when he first arrived in the nation's capital as part of his journalism studies.

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May 7, 2008 | by Wendy Leopold
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University student David Rivelli contemplated writing a story about the perils of being tall in Washington D.C. when he first arrived in the nation's capital as part of his journalism studies.

"I must have hit my head in this one room in the Capitol Building at least four times," recalled the 6-foot-7-inch Medill graduate student. Last month, Rivelli's considerable height prompted President Bush to hop on a chair before the two had their picture taken together at the annual White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) dinner.

Rivelli, from Hinsdale, Ill., was attending the journalism event with Medill graduate student Melissa Schmitt, where the two were awarded the WHCA's Deborah Orin Scholarship and where reporters typically "roast" the sitting president.

At the dinner, the organization announced its plans to annually award $38,000 in tuition to a Medill graduate student in the government and public affairs reporting track as well as annually fund the Orin Scholarships for $5,000.

A photographer with Associated Press captured the moment at the dinner when President Bush jumped up on a chair next to the astonished Rivelli.

"The whole thing was surreal," Rivelli said. "There we were with the president and the First Lady and Cheney, Justice Scalia and Condoleezza Rice… I'd pictured a lot of things happening, but seeing the leader of the free world jump up on a chair in front of me wasn't one."

"I just knew something related to David's height was going to happen," said Schmitt, who, at 5 foot 2, kept a lower profile. A former producer at Chicago's public television station, Schmitt hopes eventually to work at National Public Radio. For Schmitt, the evening's thrill was a chat with veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas, the first female member of the WHCA.

"She told me I should never be afraid of asking the president or any public official any question because they work for us," said Schmitt. "And she said something to the effect that I'd never regret going into journalism."

As for Schmitt's 7-year-old son's reaction to the dinner, which he watched on C-SPAN, he had only this to say: "Why'd you have to wear a black dress like everyone else?" Perhaps the next time his mother attends the famed journalism event, she'll wear blue.