Eyewitnesses to history

Road trip takes students to D.C. for inauguration

January 31, 2013 | Jim Stewart

IMG_6691
IMG_6691
IMG_6691

By Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer

It’s a story Taylor Mitchell plans to tell her grandchildren.

The United States’ first African-American president was sworn in for his second term, and she was privileged to be an eyewitness.

“It was a great experience to see history being made,” said Mitchell, a sophomore biology major from Augusta, Ga.  “I definitely felt a sense of pride that I was there, and that’s something I can tell my grandkids.”

Mitchell was one of 52 Furman students who traveled by bus to Washington, D.C., to participate in the 57th Presidential Inauguration activities as part of a trip sponsored by the Student League for Black Culture.

Assistant Dean Idella Glenn organized the trip with the goal of helping students feel more connected to each other and to better appreciate the civil rights movement and the power of voting. Education professor Lorraine DeJong joined Glenn and the students in visiting museums and monuments throughout the Capitol during the weekend.

For some students, their experience on Inauguration Day Monday, January 21, included waiting in the cold up to eight hours along Pennsylvania Avenue for a glimpse of President and Mrs. Obama along the parade route.

They didn’t mind. “We were able to share the exuberance of having witnessed a small piece of history together,” DeJong said.

For those who were able to get a closer view, the inauguration stirred strong emotions. People waved American flags as they sang the national anthem with Beyonce and cheered for the Obamas.

“Being in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of very patriotic people was a new experience,” said Yasmin Alvarez-Garcia, a sophomore chemistry major from the Canary Islands. “You could feel the commitment people had for one of the great leaders of our time.”

Mattson Smith, a senior political science and religion major from Tega Cay, S.C., and a self-described “political junkie,” had tickets that put him about 100 yards from the president.

“The thing I took away most from the trip was just how powerful politics is in our country,” said Smith. “I was standing in a sea of millions of people, all because we believed in a political message. There were people from Ohio, California, Washington state, New York, Utah, everywhere, all joined together to watch one man say a couple of lines that we could read in any text book. People of all creeds, nationalities, beliefs, sexualities and genders were there that day because we believed in a common vision.

“Politics brought us together. I think that politics is a unifying force in our country. We may have different ideas on how to make the country better, but we all want to improve the country and believe that our democracy is the best way to accomplish that change. That's a pretty remarkable thing.”

Photo: From left, Crystal Boyd, Shakiri Simmons, Reagan Thompson, Reagan Tyson, Lena Pringle and Eleanor Dunbar wait along the parade route.