01/23/09 — MOC students get firsthand view of Obama inauguration

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MOC students get firsthand view of Obama inauguration

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 23, 2009 1:46 PM

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Mount Olive College students flank a cutout of President Barack Obama during their recent visit to Washington, D.C., to attend seminars and the inauguration. From left are Jenna Gudac, James Vickory, Crystal Guy and Jessica Dennis, with Trent Lassiter and Yeeka Yau kneeling in front.

MOUNT OLIVE -- A group of Mount Olive College students who made the trip to Washington, D.C., this week said while attending the inauguration was not always easy, the chance to see history in the making was worth the trip.

Six seniors represented their school at the Campaign 2008: The Presidential Inauguration seminars. The group returned Wednesday evening.

During their time away, the students recorded their experiences on a daily blog on the college's Web site www.mountolive.edu. On Thursday, they met with college officials and the press to share their impressions.

Jessica Dennis of Meadville, Pa., an English communications major, set out to gain a better understanding of the media's role in the election.

"After listening to the speakers throughout the week, I saw how each news media favored Obama in this campaign and how it worked to his benefit in this election," she said.

She spoke of the unity felt among the large crowds gathered, on one occasion singing and humming "Lean on Me." It sparked optimism, she said.

"I think growing up, I was about 14 when September 11 happened," she said. "With Obama, I saw some of the hope come back. That was my favorite part, kind of feeling like everything is going to be good."

The bulk of their first week was absorbed with classroom work, speakers and homework, the students said. Weekdays from 8:30 until 12:30, some 678 students from around the country attended classes at the University of District of Columbia. They heard from representatives from Secret Service, C-Span and newspapers and magazines, made site visits around D.C. and spent evenings doing homework.

A lot of work, not much sleep is how Trent Lassiter of Selma described it.

"I think we were all tired but we all got a lot of out of it," he said.

Still fighting off a cold the group passed around during the trip, he said his goals going into the week were very broad.

"Being a business major, I was more concerned about the economy," he said. "We talked about the business side -- Obama's got a lot of stuff to do and I think we all know that. Everybody's got their own opinion about what he should do first -- health care, domestic policy, foreign policy, the economy. I think it's going to be important to see what he does first."

Crystal Guy of Clayton also approached the experience with an open mind, taking advantage of the opportunity before her.

"I learned so much more in the 11 days we were there than I probably have in my life," she said. "It just really inspired me to get more into politics. I want to get more involved in campaigning."

Others were affected, too, by the crowds and the message.

"What makes it so special (is) seeing how it impacts the people," said Yeeka Yau, who hails from Australia. "You see everyone around (crying), you feel the adrenaline pumping. I knew going in this was going to be one of the most significant events in history.

"To me I think a really important thing was to see how it impacted our generation, what they call the millennial generation. President Obama symbolized this generation -- this campaign changed the way politics has run."

Their experiences will not be forgotten -- from witnessing the vast lines of people buying newspapers or visiting the Capitol Building to see North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and seeing Sen. John McCain walk past.

"They were voting in the Senate that day. Sen. Burr gave us passes," said Jenna Dudac of Pine Level. It turned out to be a momentous occasion. "We watched Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton cast their last votes. ... We saw all these people we see on TV. It was just amazing. You don't see that many people in one place, just communicating with each other, carrying on conversations."

But for self-described "country boy in a new city" James Vickory of Mount Olive said the culture shock was also an eye-opener.

"It was being there in the action when everything was happening, knowing that you were part of history, not just witnessing history -- you were a part," he said. "As a conservative Democrat, I have been forced to stand on the fence my entire life."

The trip expanded his horizons in many ways, not the least of which was allowing him to be exposed to an array of political backgrounds and views.

Now, he says, "There's no fence, there's no fence in this election. Obama has united all people. We are really at a turning point in American history -- the day of the inauguration it was chaotic but everyone was happy. ... Everyone was in an upbeat mood."

It was a constant sea of people, especially on inauguration day, the group said. And the temperatures were challenging, especially as they waited outside for the swearing-in ceremony.

That day, recalled Crystal, Jenna was freezing, Jessica was being pushed around by the crowd and Yau mentioned something about leaving.

"I didn't care if I died that day, I was there," she said. "Everybody was kind of paranoid because we didn't go through any security check .... (and yet) you could just feel the energy and feel the hope. When they announced him as president, seeing the energy was insane. We knew from that moment at 12, everything changed. I felt everybody had hope."

And for Vickory -- whose father is District Attorney Branny Vickory -- the experience brought forth another realization.

"How much access you have as a citizen of the United States -- that as American citizens, as a citizen you have the right to know and have public access to the Senate, to the House," he said "That was a good feeling to know that I can if I want to, (I can) go to my senator's office, to my congressman's office."

The students plan to continue talking about their experiences, with a public session planned next month and other outcomes being considered.

"We talked about forming a common ground club," Yau said. "I think all of us would like to see more of an interest on campus in politics. It really is important. .. I think we would all like to inspire other students and the community to get involved."

Crystal said she hopes to see more newspapers available on campus, and has begun quenching her own thirst for news by reading newspapers online and watching CNN.

"Who cares about MTV?" she said. "Watch CNN."