New Castle News

March 20, 2012

Laurel sixth-grader meets vice president in Pittsburgh

Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — What do St. Patrick’s Day, the Laurel School District and envy have in common?

Green — and Tiffnie Downs surely experienced it in all three forms yesterday.

Tiffnie, a sixth-grader at Laurel Elementary, marched in Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Pittsburgh, where she got to meet — and have her photo taken with — Vice President Joe Biden. Yesterday, she took a framed print of the memorable moment to show her teachers and classmates.

While her instructors all were duly impressed, she got a mixed reaction from her fellow students.

“Some of them were like, ‘Who’s he?’ ” Tiffnie said, “and some were like, ‘That’s really an honor that you got to meet him.’ ”

Count Tiffnie firmly in the latter camp.

“It was a neat experience,” she said. “He asked what my name was, and what grade I was in and what school I went to. I really didn’t ask him anything. I was sort of just amazed.”

Tiffnie received her spot in the parade courtesy of her aunt, Amie Downs, who is director of Allegheny County’s Communication Division. Tiffnie said she’d taken part in the event a few times before, when her aunt had worked for state Sen. Wayne D. Fontana. On Saturday, her primary job was handing out gum to children — and keeping up with the vice president.

“He kept running back and forth to see people and shake hands,” Tiffnie said. “We were marching behind him and they told us to stay five feet behind him, but we kept having to dodge him.

“One time he took off running because they told him he had to catch up with the limo, so we had to run then, too.”

Tiffnie, who said both sides of her family come from an Irish heritage, didn’t find out she’d be meeting Biden until she was on her way to the parade with her aunt.

“Then she said, ‘That also means we’ll be marching with the Secret Service,’ Tiffnie recalled. “I’m like, ‘Oh.’ But they were actually really nice.”

Indeed, the photo that Tiffnie showed around her school yesterday was actually snapped by a Secret Service agent.

Tiffnie, who also got to meet U.S. ambassador to Ireland and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, isn’t the first member of her family to rub elbows with someone who has a White House connection. Her mom, Shannon, met then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton when the soon-to-be chief executive visited the Lawrence County Fair in 1992.

“She thought that it was cool that I got to meet (Biden), because she got to meet Clinton,” Tiffnie said of her mom. “We live right across from the Lawrence County Fairgrounds, and she also met all the Secret Service agents — who wouldn’t let her up the road to get to our house.”

Asked if she could have named the vice president of the United States prior to Saturday, Tiffnie responded with a quick and honest, “Nope.”

“But I know now,” she added, “and I won’t forget.”