Students going to Obama’s inauguration

Published 7:14 am Monday, January 19, 2009

Some local middle school students feel like they have struck gold, because on Tuesday they will likely witness the historic inauguration of the first African-American U.S. President—Barack Obama.

Students going on the trip are either members of the National Junior Honor Society or Student Council at West Bainbridge Middle School. They will travel to Washington, D.C., on Sunday and plan to witness the inauguration as part of their tour of the nation’s capital.

Twelve students—11 from West Bainbridge Middle School and Katie Harrell, a Southwest Georgia Academy student who is the daughter of Bainbridge Mayor Mark Harrell—will attend the inauguration. Two teachers, including WBMS teacher and extracurricular advisor Beverly Payne, and two parents will escort the students on their trip from Tallahassee, Fla., bright and early Sunday to spend four nights in the greater D.C. area.

Email newsletter signup

At noon Tuesday, they plan to witness the inauguration even though they don’t have tickets to see it up close. They will most likely be on the Mall between the U.S. Capitol, where Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Millions of people are expected to attend.

Eighth-grader Meredith Conder said just being there is exciting to her.

“It’s a once-in-life-time experience to just witness history in the making,” said Conder, daughter of Mike and Hildy Conder.

Katie Shelton made sure was going because she pitched in doing all sorts of fund-raising to ensure she had enough funds for the $1,300 trip.

“This is just plain old history in the making,” said Shelton, daughter of Gina and Jon Shelton from Bainbridge.

At a meeting held for the students and parents Monday, the itinerary and details of the trip were discussed. They were told the group could decide whether to attend the swearing-in ceremony or go to the parade.

Payne and Shelton talked after the meeting that the swearing-in ceremony was definitely in, and maybe they could swing the parade too.

“They (the students) want to see this process. They are excited about standing in the middle of this piece of history,” Payne said.

Five of the students are eighth-graders, seven are seventh-graders. Teacher Lindsey Jarrett is to make the trip with Payne.

The students will stay in Annapolis, Md., and are planning to attend an inaugural ball that Payne said the new president nor vice president will attend. But the ball—and the trip—is being sponsored by Smithsonian Student Travel.

On the days other than Tuesday, the students are scheduled to visit the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court building, the Library of Congress, National Archives, Arlington National Cemetery and Mount Vernon.

Payne said the local group will be assigned a tour guide who will stay with them around the clock, Payne said.

A good decision

Luck and a good decision by Payne allowed for the trip to take place during the inauguration instead of the usual time during May.

Payne, who is West Bainbridge Middle School’s Teacher of the Year for 2008-2009, said a pamphlet came at the end of last year’s school year advertising the trip.

She—nor anybody else for that matter—knew just how historic the trip would be.

“We had no idea it was going to be as historic as it’s going to be,” Payne said. This will be her fourth trip to Washington, D.C., but her first inauguration.

School Principal Steve Dupree OK’d the trip, just as long as the students return by Thursday for some of them to participate in some mandatory tests.

Dupree attended President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 as a member of his high school marching band. But the temperatures were so low—in the single digits—that they canceled the parade that he was to have marched in. He and his fellow band members got a second trip to Disney World though.

“They are going to remember this trip their entire lives,” Dupree said.

He said he’s glad the trip worked out like it did, because, “There’s only one first and this is it.”