01/24/09 — Local students get firsthand look at historic inauguration

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Local students get firsthand look at historic inauguration

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on January 24, 2009 11:46 PM

Carter Jones had been to Washington, D.C. before, but the 11-year-old didn't really remember that much about the nation's capital.

"I was little when I came before," the Carver Elemen-tary School fifth-grader said.

But as he started his jaunt to back to the city late last week, he knew it would be a trip he would never forget.

He wasn't there to just tour the Jefferson Memorial or the Washington Monument -- although he did get to visit the sites.

It wasn't just to see the Pentagon -- although he did that, too.

As he stood among millions of people at the National Mall Tuesday, all watching the country's 44th and first black president raise his head and repeat the oath of office, he couldn't help but think that children his age would be reading about this day in their history books decades from now.

"It was cool," he said. "History was being made, and I was a part of it."

Amythest McPhail was there, too.

The 16-year-old Eastern Wayne High School junior didn't quite know what to do as she watched the inauguration ceremony.

She couldn't be-lieve she was there.

"It was unreal, surreal," she said. "It was like I was living a dream."

She knew it was a momentous occasion.

"I just felt honored," she said. "I was honored to be there. ... And I cried. I did. I cried."

Both local students got the chance to attend the inauguration ceremonies after being picked by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council to participate, along with other scholars around the nation, in the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference.

Jones was chosen for his participation in the National Young Scholars program, one of leadership and academic achievement, for the last two summers, and Miss McPhail was chosen because of her leadership in the National Honor Society, Health Occupations Student Association and school volleyball team.

The conference is a five-day program that allows students to learn more about how the country's officials are elected by interacting with congressional staff, national journalists, decision-makers, scholars and military leaders.

While the two students were in Washington, they got to listen to several keynote speakers including Gen. Colin Powell, former Vice President Al Gore and Lisa Ling.

"Colin Powell told us how not to ever give up on our dreams," Jones said. "And Al Gore talked about the same thing."

Several famous actors and actresses also participated in the conference for the student scholars.

"There were a few celebrities, like Alfred Woodard and Josh Lucas, that did a creative coordination for us, where they would say quotes from famous people," Miss McPhail said.

"And Buzz Aldrin was there, too, when we went to the National Air and Space Museum," Jones said.

Neither student actually got to see President Barack Obama up close. In fact, they had to watch the inauguration on a Jumbotron.

"There were piles of people," Jones said. "And security was very high."

But that didn't tarnish their experiences.

"I think it's good for the country to have a black president," Jones said. "The country needs change. Everything around us is changing."

And it made both of them more aware of politics.

"When I turn 18, yes ma'am, I'm going to vote," Jones said.

"The experience gave me a better understanding of what goes on," Miss McPhail said.

And she has already decided which way she will vote when the time comes.

"Democrat," she said with enthusiasm.

After several days in the capital, the students had memories of all sorts, including dressing up for an inaugural gala -- Jones in a blue suit and Miss McPhail in a black strapless dress -- but the two say they won't likely remember every museum they went to or the food they ate.

But they will remember where they stood during the inauguration.

"I can tell my kids that I was there," Jones said.

"This is something that I will do again," Miss McPhail said. "It was a wonderful experience."