Witness to History...Thanks to UAF!

This last week America ushered in a new era with the inauguration of Barack Obama. As a political science major, I have been following the campaigns for the past year, and I have had my eye on Obama ever since his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. Thus, to say the least, this has been a BIG deal for me! Last fall I was approached by a series of professors and administrators who were extremely excited to tell me about an opportunity to attend the Inauguration in Washington DC this January. I applied and was accepted as one of eleven students choosen to represent UAF at the Washington Center's Inauguration Seminar. This all-expenses paid trip included a week long intensive academic seminar at the University of DC, site visits to a plethora of amazing locales, VIP meetings with various officials, and tickets to the Inauguration (half the group went to the actual Oath of Office Ceremony on the Mall, while the other half had VIP tickets to the Parade). I recently returned from this incredible, once in a lifetime winter vacation and would like to take a brief moment to share with you some of the fantastic experiences I had back in Washington DC.

The week-long seminar was an academic treat--"seminar" might sound boring, but what it really means is an all-star cast of speakers, site visits, and other opportunities. Among some of our more impressive speakers were Sam Donaldson, the Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Bush's Press Secretary Dana Perino, Ted Koppel, Mark Russell, and CNN Correspondant Dana Bash. We also had the opportunity to visit a wide range of Washington sites, including: the Republican National Committee Headquarters, the Jordanian Embassy, the Center for American Progress think-tank, and many others. As Alaskans we were able to get a few extra-special treats that many of our fellow Seminar particpants (students from all over the nation) did not get, these included meetings with our three Congressional delegates and VIP tickets to a National Press Club Luncheon.

When not in seminar, the eleven of us had a splendid time exploring Washington DC. Just a few highlights included: the Smithsonian museums compelete with special Inauguration celebrations, the baby guerrila that was born at the National Zoo upon arrival to DC, all of the Mall's memorials and monuments, and of course, delicious dinners in Georgetown and Dupont Circle. But the highlight of all highlights was without a doubt, Inauguration Day. While half of our group watched the Oath of Office Ceremony from a privileged spot right in front of the Captiol, myself and four other UAF students staked out our spots across from the White House on the parade route. Although it was a cold, long day, all five of us were honored to have virtually front row seats to history as we watched Barack and Michelle walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, followed by over 100 performances from groups from across the nation. Extra-special for us was that our parade seats were right across the street from Obama's viewing box--so for three hours we got to watch our new President laugh and joke with his family as he cheered on group after group.

All in all, it was an incredible experience to be in our nation's capital during such a historic event. The energy and enthusiasm radiating throughout the city was one of the most remarkable environments I have ever been in. Whether Republican or Democrat, American or a vistor from afar, Barack Obama's Inauguration weekend and the week proceding it was one filled with hope, optimism, and a sense that the world is indeed changing and the people are at last ready to embrace those changes. I have been privileged a number of times to get to travel on behalf of UAF, but by far, being a "witness to history" in Washington DC this January was certainly the most memorable.

For all those in the Fairbanks area, I invite you to come to a special presentation and reception by the eleven-student Inaugural delegation on Tuesday, February 10th at 4:15pm in the Wood Center Ballroom.

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