I’m apologizing in advance for such a long post, but it’s an important one since I accomplished one of the goals on my bucket list and I can still remember most of the details 4 years later. Oh, and I tried to keep my post positive just in case any of the teachers or students from my high school are reading…
4 years ago today, I arrived home (and skipped a day of school) after a very long and tiring weekend in Washington DC. Every January, my high school’s junior AP US History class visits DC and if it’s an inauguration year, they go to the inauguration. There are just 3 chaperones in charge of the 40 high school students, with Mrs. Bradshaw in charge.
My junior year happened to be an inauguration year… and not just any inauguration year. The inauguration year of a very historic event: our nation’s first African-American president. In fact, I remember some high school seniors going on the trip because they desperately wanted to be at the inauguration, even though they visited DC the year before with their own APUSH class.
I remember in the days before we departed Owensboro that a number of bomb threats were made against President-elect Obama. This worried my mom so much that she called “Aunt Nancy” and asked if she could chaperone!
We left Owensboro on a Sunday evening on one of those snazzy coach buses with the televisions in the ceiling and a bathroom in the back. We drove through the night (and through snowstorms in the Appalachians) to arrive in DC on Monday morning. We stopped at a McDonald’s to change our clothes and eat before the long day ahead.
Our first stop was Arlington National Cemetery. I had visited Arlington once before, when I was 10, but this time it felt… different. Like I had finally began to understand the importance of it.
Unfortunately, our time at Arlington was limited, so I was only able to visit the Tomb of the Unknowns and the mast of the USS Maine, which I had learned about in APUSH a few weeks before.
Our next stop was the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum. I remember spending so much time there, a couple of hours, I think.
The entire experience at the museum was overwhelming, especially the shoe exhibit. Each shoe belongs to a Holocaust victim; it reminds me that they were actual people, not just something that you learn about in a history book.
Then we went to the National Mall, which apparently is not an actual mall, but all of the famous memorials.
Outside of the Lincoln Memorial
Earlier in the day, President-elect Obama made a speech inside the Lincoln Memorial, so the lines to get inside were insanely long. I was fine with not going inside and visiting the Reflecting Pool on the opposite side, since I went there on my previous DC visit.
I made my first trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and ran into some of The Old Guard soldiers paying their respects. On an episode of NCIS, Gibbs visited the Wall and stated how when you look at a name, you’re looking into a reflection of yourself. That quote really stuck with me, and I thought about it during my entire visit to the Wall.
Washington Monument at sunset
Jefferson Memorial at sunset
While outside the Jefferson Memorial, I remembered that I hadn’t taken any photos of my sisters and me together. So, I asked my sister’s then-boyfriend to take a photo and he gave me this fine shot. I’m not sure how or why the background is black considering the sky was still purple. His next photo wasn’t much better.
Our last stop of the night was at the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. Everyone was so exhausted that they refused to get off the bus, yet I decided I would get off the bus, even if I had to do it alone. So of course, my lovely classmates shoved their cameras in my face and I, being the nice person that I am, took photos for them in the freezing-cold while they enjoyed the heat of the bus. I bet all of their photos turned out as lovely as mine, since taking a good photo while holding 15 other cameras is impossible, as seen below.
Finally, we arrived at the hotel in Virginia for some much-needed rest. On the bus, we all chatted about all of the cool places we had visited during the day. One of our chaperones even saw Anderson Cooper walking around and someone else saw somebody famous. (Apparently they weren’t too important to me, because I can’t remember who it was.) We were allowed to go out in groups for dinner, so my friends and I went to Bob Evans (where Aunt Nancy paid for our dinner! What a surprise.)
The chaperones made the decision on who would be allowed to attend the inauguration. A well-connected classmate got 20 tickets for viewing the inauguration closer and the chaperones hand-picked who would be able to go. Supposedly everyone had a fair chance, but I believe they picked their favorites, as only the seniors and popular kids got the tickets.
The next morning, we woke up incredibly early to take the Metro into the city. It was my first time on a subway and it was so crowded. I didn’t even get to sit down! I did, however, make friends with the complete strangers who were all in my personal bubble. We got off at the Federal Triangle stop (I have no idea why I still remember this) and walked around for a while, until we finally got as close as we could get.
So this, my friends, was the view of the inauguration. I was standing on the lawn outside of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, watching a giant screen. I couldn’t even see the screen that well, because tall men had their children on their shoulders, blocking the view. Everyone cheered when Obama was being sworn in and booed when Bush left the Capitol lawn in Marine One.
We had a few hours of free time in DC, so most of us wandered around the Mall or visited the Smithsonian. I went inside the American History museum, which at this point was ridiculously crowded, and wandered around. I remember going past a kitchen exhibit of some lady named Julia Child’s and saying, “Okay who is Julia Child?” (Apparently she was pretty dang important, because I got home a few weeks later and watched that Julie & Julia movie.)
Letters written by Abraham Lincoln
And then, it was time to leave DC. Except, the inauguration parade was delayed, so most of the streets were closed while we were trying to leave. I remember a particular chaperone freaking out because the Federal Triangle Metro stop was closed and how we were going to get to our stop in Vienna. We had to run at least 2 miles to the Foggy Bottom Metro stop over by George Washington University hospital.
At least it gave us the time to visit some random vendors on the streets. Like the one that sold the beloved FBI sweatshirts that were a status symbol in my high school. (Only the people who went on the DC trip had those. And they all wore them for weeks afterwards to show how cool they are. I remember wanting one so desperately because I wanted to be cool, too.) Oh yeah, and I remember a guy selling Obama condoms. That just tore sweet little innocent me to pieces. We also had the opportunity to see some sights on our run.
“I feel like I’m on an episode of NCIS!” Apologies to whoever had to hear me say that for the entire trip.
We finally made it to Foggy Bottom, but the Metro stop was so crowded that there was no way all 40 students and 3 chaperones could stick together. The chaperones shouted “Get on the Orange line and stay on until the end” (which was the Vienna stop) because they were terrified that we would get lost and end up in God-knows-where. And knowing some of my classmates, I’m surprised this didn’t happen.
There was practically a mob to get on the subway.
Somehow, I managed to survive the mob and rejoin the group in Vienna, safely. We all got on the bus to and headed back to Kentucky. The weekend went by so quickly, but it was a great experience.
I had a blast in Washington DC, learning more about our capital and our nation as a whole. I would love to visit there again, as I didn’t get to see every place on my bucket list. In fact, Aunt Nancy took a group every year for 20 years and she was never able to see everything, either.
*Side note: Although it was cool to be at the inauguration, I would have preferred “Maverick” McCain to win. Also, the cold weather and ridiculous crowds were not worth it. You people watching at home on TV had a much better view. That is the first and last inauguration I will ever attend.*