Josh Shaffer

How a stuffy nose got a fifth-grader an interview with the governor

Last month, fifth-grader and budding reporter Grace Loflin caught a cold on the unluckiest Tuesday: the afternoon Gov. Roy Cooper toured Penny Road Elementary, meeting her young news team.

Her mother, Katherine, prodded Grace toward school. “You don’t have a fever,” she said. “It isn’t the flu. How often do you get to meet the governor?”

But the 11-year-old answered with red eyes and stuffed-up nose: “I can’t risk getting the governor sick. He has to run the state.”

For her germ-free thoughtfulness, the governor rewarded Grace this week with a one-on-one interview inside the Capitol, where she quizzed him for 11 minutes, jotting notes with a Sharpie.

“You’re a lefty,” noted Cooper. “Like my daddy.”

Grace may have suffered through Cooper’s January visit at home sniffling, but on Tuesday, she faced him in a red leather chair, notebook in her lap, gas logs waiting in a marble fireplace.

“Almost overnight,” her mother said, “she’s seeing her future.”

Before the interview began, she presented a picture she had drawn of a cardinal – the state bird – and gave a shout-out to her colleagues back at the Penny Road News – PNN for short. Then she dove in.

What do you do when you put out a new law and people don’t agree with you? (Lead even when it’s unpopular.)

How do you promote yourself without it sounding like bragging? (Be yourself.)

Are there parts of the job you don’t like? (Disagreements with the legislature.)

Midway through, Grace managed to coax some revealing thoughts from Cooper.

“I don’t tell this publicly very much,” Cooper said, “but I’m actually an introverted person. A lot of people who are in office are natural extroverts, and they find it just second nature to be with people. But I’m more of an introvert, so I have to work at going to people, talking to people. I’ve gotten pretty good over the years, but it’s something that doesn’t come easily to me.”

Afterward, Cooper offered these thoughts, having been grilled by a courteous fifth-grader.

“Grace could be our flu-season ambassador for why it’s important to stay home when you’re sick to not spread germs,” he said. “It was no easy interview, and I know Grace is destined for great things.”

So often, sickness leads to missed chances: birthday parties on the day of a fever, sleepovers foiled by pinkeye. But in Grace’s case, placing courtesy over a journalism coup led to a notebook full of quotes – keepers every one.