Students take bite of history on inaugural trip

By Shelby Schroeder

Cupcakes and brownies paved the way to one group’s chance to witness Obama’s swearing-in.

LORDSTOWN — A group of seniors at Lordstown High School will join the thousands, possibly millions, flooding the nation’s capital for Tuesday’s swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama.

Twenty-two seniors, including many who had their first taste of politics in the November election, will board a bus today for Arlington, Va., where they will begin a four-day trip that includes a firsthand view of America’s incoming president.

Leading them is Terry Armstrong, their high school government instructor, who said the trip to Washington, D.C., is the first for many of his students.

“Our school involves students in a number of trips each year, but unlike other schools, ours doesn’t have a yearly trip to Washington,” he said. “Many of them have never been, so it’s a really exciting prospect in itself.”

Of those past class trips, last year’s seniors embarked on the campaign trail in Iowa during the state’s caucus. Learning firsthand how to get out the vote, students aided presidential candidates Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, and U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Armstrong said.

The enthusiasm that followed the caucus gave him the idea to organize a field trip to the presidential inauguration — months before a president had even been announced.

“A lot of [last year’s] juniors in class asked, ‘What are we going to do next year?’’ he said. “Then the inauguration came up, and of course that got everybody’s attention.”

And so in late February 2008, students and faculty began organizing the trip.

Understanding that planning earlier than later would save the students from rocketing expenses, the seniors began raising money beginning in April. They had spaghetti dinners and bake sales, sold refreshments and even solicited help from big-name politicos, authors and actors.

Presidential candidates U.S. Sen. John McCain and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, actor Martin Sheen, radio personality Rush Limbaugh, former Vice President Al Gore, and political analyst James Carville and a number of others under the media spotlight received letters from the students, asking for autographs or donations that could help fund their trip.

“We sent letters to all these people,” Armstrong said, “and every now and then, something would show up.”

Recounting all the events, 18-year-old Karly Gibbs said, “We did all sorts of fundraising.”

“Mr. Armstrong was the one who inspired us to get out there and do the fundraising — we did a lot of small stuff, like selling cookies on Groundhog Day [and] having a raffle on candidates’ night.”

She explained that the books and memorabilia students received in the mail were raffled off on the night when area politicians gathered to speak at the school for candidates’ night. From that event alone, Armstrong estimated students raised upward of $2,000.

Gibbs said her trip, including the bus ride, Arlington hotel and Metro pass, are all covered for about $200 — a tremendous deal for a spot in the inaugural grandeur that she is thrilled about.

“I’m really excited about being there, how busy it is, the subways ...” she went on, “I’ve never actually experienced any of that, so it will be something new for me.”

After arriving in Arlington, she and her fellow seniors will start their adventure with a 2:30 a.m. subway ride downtown. Because of the competitive requests for tickets to the event, only nine of the students will witness the swearing-in from reserved seating on the plaza; the others will still join, but from predictably more distant seating.

“We’ve said that regardless if we got tickets, we’d all still go,” said Armstrong, who noted the seating details have not deferred students’ joy.

Their experience, whether it’s up close or far away, Armstrong said, will likely be a most memorable time in their lives.

“I’m hoping they’re able to come back and explain to a lot of the other students at our school just how historical an event like that can be,” he said.

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