Inauguration 2009 – Inauguration fills youth with hope, pride
By Mark Tate
SPECIAL TO THE POST-REGISTER
What an experience! Last week my friend, John Garcia, and I traveled to Washington, D.C., for the trip of a lifetime. We were invited to attend the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference sponsored by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council last year and immediately signed up. This was a huge honor given only to alumn
i of CYLC programs. As we met at the airport in Austin around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, I still had no idea what an experience I was in for.
After a beautiful flight on a small US Airways plane, John and I met other conference attendees in Charlotte, N.C., and continued on to Washington. After seeing endless traffic from the air, we knew our adventure was beginning. Along with tens of thousands of people in baggage claim, John and I got our luggage, checked in, received our hotel assignments, and departed for the University of Maryland.
Once our luggage was taken care of, dinnertime finally rolled around. Then, we were off to see keynote speakers in the basketball arena. Because nearly 7,000 high school students attended from across the nation, CYLC was able to have some well-known and inspiring speakers. The first night included Doris Kearns-Goodwin, a presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, and Lisa Ling, a leading young journalist. We were given the title “scholars,” which made me feel quite special. Scholars learned how the presidency has its perks and stresses, along with responsibilities and secrets. Additionally, a prime example of the American Dream was demonstrated by Lisa Ling, who encouraged all of us to immerse ourselves in our surroundings and culture to understand the world. Finally, we departed for our hotels and got just a little bit of much needed sleep.
The next day began early, and we headed back to the University to watch Gen. Colin L. Powell and Archbishop Desmond Tutu address the students. Former Secretary of State Powell was awesome to hear, and he spoke of challenges and triumphs required to reach for the impossible. Tutu, a human rights activist, religious leader, and Nobel Peace Prize winner from South Africa, provided humorous advice to young leaders. He is an example of how one person’s actions can make our globe a friendlier place to live. After lunch, our groups traveled to the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall to view the opening ceremonies of the 2009 Presidential Inauguration. This was quite a sight to see and gave us a preview of immense crowds in the city. Headline participants included Tiger Woods, U2, Sheryl Crow, Queen Latifah, Stevie Wonder, Usher and Beyonce. After President- Elect Obama addressed the crowd, we loaded the buses and departed for the Hilton Washington. The Reduced Shakespeare Company and Capital Steps put on hilarious dinner shows about the history on America. Finally, bedtime rolled around.
On our third day in Washington, each individual group met and participated in several activities regarding the role of a presidency and what goes on behind the scenes. All groups then gathered for the last time at the University of Maryland and listened to Former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore encourage students to respond to a call for action. He spoke of his experience as Vice President and environmental activist and gave us practical ways to work for improvement in our communities. Next on the agenda was a visit to the Newseum, a museum dedicated to world news. On display were parts of the Berlin Wall, the steeple of the Twin Towers, and the front pages of every major newspaper across the globe. To conclude the evening, we boarded a dinner boat and sailed the Potomac River at dusk. It was incredible to see the city from a new perspective, and the river was actually iced over!
Finally the culmination of the conference arrived… at four in the morning! We ate an early breakfast and arrived at the National Mall at 7:30 a.m. to secure standing room. While waiting for the festivities to begin, my group of friends toured the Natural History museum and drank hot chocolate in preparation for frigid temperatures.
Going in to this, I knew I would witness history. However, nothing was able to prepare me for the immense sensation of pride and hope I felt for the United States. As temperatures rose into the teens (not easy to deal with when you are from Lockhart) and crowds reached millions, I forgot my troubles and enjoyed the awesome experience. As representatives, senators, former presidents, and future cabinet members filled in those nice seats up front, everyone else was having the experience of a lifetime. Flags flew high and proud people from different backgrounds and races struck up friendships, and a patriotic feeling was in the air.
Finally, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States and the people went nuts. Literally. His address spoke to ALL Americans regarding the future of our great nation and a feeling of unity spread. On this day, we as Americans opened a new chapter of our great history, and I watched the historic moment before my own eyes. I am grateful to have been a part of this moment in time and look forward to seeing how it affects my life and family. To a huge extent, seeing my country rise together on that particular morning is indescribable and nothing like I expected. One thing is for sure, it was an awesome event to be a part of!
Finally my group trekked through the busy streets and loaded buses at the Nationals Ballpark. Later that evening, all scholars got together one last time at the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport for our own inaugural ball. This was particularly special for me because I love aviation and took my picture with a Concorde and Space Shuttle Endeavor. Daughtry performed and the food was amazing. Eventually, around midnight, we headed back to the hotel. Everyone was exhausted!
The next morning John and I headed to the airport and began our journey home from the nation’s busiest airport that day. The conference was over, but we had the experience of a lifetime. This is a week I will pass down forever and words do not bring justice to its implausible enjoyment. Proud to be an American and excited for a prosperous future are my most memorable feelings. I was privileged to be in D.C., but we are all privileged to be Americans.
God bless America.