Local students to attend inauguration

West Orange-Stark and Orangefield schools will become a part of history when 53 students and adults travel to Washington, D.C., to see the inauguration of Barack Obama.

For Leesa McMullen, WO-S social studies teacher, this will be her fourth inaugural trip. Orangefield social studies teacher, Veronica Johnson will also make her third journey with students in tow.

This trip has been in the works since March, long before the outcome of the presidential race.

The students are always excited, McMullen said. “This year, particularly, their excited about the historical aspect,” she said. One of the things she has been surprised about is how much the security keeps increasing each year.

“You can always tell when it’s Secret Service, that and they dress really well. Last trip, we went to the train station, which is now a string of shops and a food court.” 

McMullen said they had to demonstrate their cameras worked and students had to drink some of their water, to prove it was water, just to go to the food court. 

“Later we found out the president was on the floor above us,” she said.

Open to the whole school, the excursion was not limited to students. McMullen will have 25 with her, 21 being students. Johnson has a slightly larger group of 28, 24 of which are students. The others are adult chaperones.

“This is the largest group I’ve taken,” said Johnson. Her first group was 17 with the last trip around 20 participants.

In past inaugurations, McMullen has always been able to get tickets to be closer to the ceremony, but was not able to achieve it this time. Normally there are around one million people on the mall for the festivities, this year, over three million are expected.

Huge screens are placed at different spots on the mall, so people can see. According to McMullen, “Even when we were closer, you would still watch it on the Jumbotrons.”

McMullen said people have to make a choice; to see the ceremony or watch the parade. They can’t do both. The first time she went to an inauguration, they chose the parade route. They saw President Clinton leave the White House for the Capitol and swearing in ceremony, then, “The military escort back to the White House as commander in chief.”

The group will catch the subway at 5-6 a.m. on Jan. 20 to make their way to the mall. With three million people, they have to start much earlier. Entertainment starts hours before the ceremony because of the length of time people have to wait if they want a good spot.

The students are amazed at the amount of people and security. It’s not only on the ground, but also in the air and on the rooftops.

According to McMullen, some of the students that go on the trip already have political aspirations; the inaugural ceremonies just reinforce them.

“It’s a privilege to be there,” said McMullen. “It’s awe inspiring.”

While in Washington, the students will visit the World War II, Vietnam, Korea and FDR monuments along with the National Cathedral and Arlington Cemetery.

“Always before, we could get an appointment to put a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldiers,” said McMullen. But this year there were no slots available.

On Wednesday, before leaving, the students will tour the Capitol building arranged by U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady. Johnson expects the congressman to answer questions and take pictures at some point.

“The students are excited, I’m excited,” Johnson said. “They enjoy the history.”

She said some of the students can’t wait to see snow deeper than the inch or two we got here.

“They will come away with a better understanding of our government and how it works,” said Johnson. “‘Hands-on’ is always good.”

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.