Obama trip mends a broken heart

South Dakota Obama visit white house girl letter heartbroken meeting _00013029
South Dakota Obama visit white house girl letter heartbroken meeting _00013029

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'Heartbroken' South Dakota girl meets with Obama 01:51

Watertown, South Dakota (CNN)President Barack Obama has walked plenty of diplomatic tight ropes during his two terms in office, but it's safe to say none involved the emotions of an 11-year-old girl -- until now.

"I wanted to put my sad feelings into a letter," said Rebecca Kelley of Vermillion, South Dakota, who wrote the President after learning he'd visited every other state while in office, except the one she calls home.
Sure, South Dakota's secretary of tourism wrote the President two years ago urging a visit, but that letter wasn't tweeted by the White House to more than six million people. So there it was, for all the world to see: Rebecca's broken heart.
Obama greets the nation
Obama greets the nation

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Obama greets the nation 01:13
    "Dear President Obama ... I wanted to know why you haven't visited South Dakota?" she wrote. "We are the warmest of the Dakotas, we have Mt. Rushmoore (sic), and when I just go to the park, I sometimes see coyotes, hawks and bald eagles. Please visit us soon."
    Then came the President's diplomatic crisis: "P.S., this is my heart because you haven't visited South Dakota," followed by a broken heart only an 11-year-old could sketch with such innocence.
    "I thought I would get a letter saying, 'Thanks for writing, please don't write again,'" Rebecca told CNN.
    In truth, that broken heart seemed to represent the entire state of South Dakota. After the President reached his 49th state, Utah, people began to wonder if a presidential visit was ever going to happen.
    Was it the weather? Was it the Republican politics? (Indeed, some thought it a point of pride to be snubbed by Obama.) Whatever it was, there was enough self-doubt circulating in South Dakota to be skewered by John Oliver on HBO's "Last Week Tonight."
    All of that would come to an end in mid-April when the President announced his first official visit to the state, the White House later tweeting, "Rebecca's heart can officially mend," along with a copy of her letter.
    "I was so happy, I about blacked out," Rebecca said. "It was just so amazing."
    The President would be coming to Watertown, a community of 20,000 people in the northeast corner of the state, to deliver a commencement address at Lake Area Technical Institute, a highly rated school that made a perfect backdrop for Obama's community college initiative.
    It also made the perfect setting for a president to mend diplomatic relations with an 11-year-old girl.
    So with the town collectively chanting that Obama "saved the best for last," Air Force One touched down at Watertown's regional airport on May 8. After greeting local dignitaries, the President started walking toward Rebecca.
    "I'm just anticipating shaking his hand," she said. "And then the President came and gave me a hug."
    Not only that, he came bearing gifts -- White House chocolates and an official coin. But Obama wasn't the only one prepared to mend diplomatic fences.
    "Rebecca had written him another letter," her father, Bruce Kelley, told CNN. "She had simply drawn a whole heart, saying thank you for coming to South Dakota. Her heart is mended."
    Obama signed the letter and handed it back to Rebecca -- the keepsake of a lifetime.
    "I did get a chance to look the President in the eye," Bruce said. "He's a father and I think he understands the pride that a father can feel when his children have done a great job."
    "It's like bungee jumping off a cliff, that's basically the feeling," Rebecca said.
    At the end of the day, with the President on his way back to Washington, South Dakota has its place in presidential history, and Rebecca's heart is officially mended. It's just her mind she's worried about now.
    "I don't know how I'm going to believe this tomorrow," she said. "Amazing."