Skyline students take the trip of a lifetime

When Barack Obama placed his hand on the Lincoln Bible and took the Oath of Office Tuesday, Jan. 20, millions of people across the nation savored the moment while gathered at inauguration parties or huddled in front of their television sets.

When Barack Obama placed his hand on the Lincoln Bible and took the Oath of Office Tuesday, Jan. 20, millions of people across the nation savored the moment while gathered at inauguration parties or huddled in front of their television sets.

But for 35 Skyline High School students, it was more than just a fleeting few hours in front of the TV; they traveled to Washington, D.C. for the event, and, scattered across the National Mall, witnessed history first-hand.

“You know, (the inauguration) has become such a historic moment, that when I first planned it, I had no idea how big it would get,” said Rob Rosemont, a history teacher at Skyline who organized the trip.

He first toyed with the idea of taking students to a presidental inauguration four years ago, but found there wasn’t much excitement or interest for President Bush’s second inaugural address.

During the 2008 primaries, however, the students were buzzing.

Rosemont began planning in Febraury, and by April, had 35 committed students.

It struck Rosemont that the students were enthusiastic to sign up even without knowing who the new president would be; when he was planning the trip, Hilary Clinton and Rudi Giuliani looked like the front-runners, he said.

“They signed up thinking Obama might have been a possibility, but not knowing who it was going to be,” he said. “They didn’t sign up just to see him. And now, this inauguration has taken on historic proportions.”

Through WorldStrides, a program that offers educational trips for students, Rosemont was able to plan a detailed itinerary for the four-day excursion and secure airplane tickets, hotel rooms, a tour bus and tour guide.

Senior Emily Alexander seized her opportunity to take the trip and said what was most exciting was the chance to see everything happen for herself.

“It’s a great chance for us to go and capture history from our own viewpoints,” Alexander said. “We don’t have to rely on the news or other people, and when we’re older, we can tell our children everything that happened that day. These are great memories.”

Through Congressman Dave Reichert, Rosemont was able to secure six seats in the reserved section for the inauguration, which means sitting with the first 240,000 people.

Rosemont, plus five students whose names were pulled from a hat, sat behind the Capital Reflecting Pool, where they were able to see the podium and make out the figures moving around.

The rest of the group sat about three-quarters of a mile from the Capital Building, but JumboTron TVs and an extensive sound system was set up, so everyone could see.

Alexander — who pulled names from the hat — said she was a little disappointed hers wasn’t among them, but was just happy to be there.

“I’m just excited to be there, to be part of the crowd gathered for this huge moment,” she said. “No matter where I’m sitting, I’m there and I get to feel that hype and excitement. That’s what’s important.”

For junior Jim Barnes, it was surreal to be a part of the inaugural crowd.

“When Obama came on for his speech, it was amazing,” he said. “Everyone was really excitied and waving flags. It was just awesome.”

Another highlight for Barnes — who had never been to Washington, D.C. before ­— was the chance to see the historical monuments.

The group took a red eye flight out of Seattle on Friday and hit the ground running when they landed in Washington, D.C.

They went straight to the tour bus and began a whirlwind weekend of sightseeing that included the Lincoln Memorial, the Capital Building, Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Treasury, among others.

The group was disappointed when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was closed for visiting dignitaries, Rosemont said, but their attitudes quickly changed when it turned out the dignitaries were Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

“We got a great spot on the street, and about 10 minutes later a motorcade came by and we could clearly see Barack waving to everyone,” Rosemont said. “The kids were really excited. That really brought it home for them that not only were they there, but they were a part of the inauguration festivities.”

They also visited Reichert’s office and presented him with a Skyline football state champions T-shirt, and spent about 20 minutes chatting with him.

“It was just so much fun watching the students see what they’ve been learning about,” Rosemont said. “To be able to go to George Washington’s home, or the Lincoln Memorial and live what you read about is amazing.”

For Rosemont, seeing the students getting involved in the election process and getting excited to be at the inauguration was one of the most rewarding things.

“It’s been really cool that they’ve gotten so involved,” he said. “They were debating, talking about the politicians and the whole election process — it really raised the political awareness of a whole generation. Most of these kids can’t even vote yet and they were watching the debates on their own. I wasn’t even assigning them.”

Alexander echoed that sentiment, citing how many students volunteered with political parties and helped with the voting process even when they couldn’t vote.

“For a lot of us, this was the first time we got to vote. You know, we’ve heard our parents complaining for a long time about the economy and gas prices and the war in Iraq, but this is the first time ever in our lives that we get the opportunity to really grasp (the issues) and get to know (them) for ourselves,” Alexander said. “We’re knowledgeable voters and citizens, and this was a chance to really get to know the people who are going to represent me as a person.”