There were two million people packed like sardines in front of the United States Capital. Most of them were too far away to be able to see anything at all–“even with binoculars, Obama was just a little dot,” Scott McLean, Professor of Political Science at Quinnipiac, said.
But that didn’t bother McLean or the 16 Quinnipiac students in attendance for the inauguration of Barack Obama.
“Being there, among millions of people who came to hear Barack Obama speak, and being in the presence of five former presidents and all the senators and congressmen, it was just unbelievable,” sophomore Marissa Kameno said.
McLean and the students stayed in Washington from Jan. 10-21 and took part in an academic program for three credits at The Washington Center, a nonprofit organization that brings students from all over the world to Washington D.C. for seminars and internships. The Quinnipiac students were among 750 students who stayed in complementary housing provided by TWC.
Part of each day was spent listening to and questioning guest lecturers who had a background in politics, the media or both. Lecturers included Ted Koppel, Sam Donaldson, Clarence Page and Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S.
“The ambassador of Pakistan was just incredible,” Kameno said. “He had a lot to say about the war on terror and where Pakistan would like to go in its relationship with the United States. He was probably one of my favorites–he was very popular.”
There was initially some worry among the students because the group only had seven tickets to the inauguration. Sen. Joe Lieberman then gave Quinnipiac three more tickets, but that still left them 10 short. But then one of the students had a stroke of luck.
Sophomore Louis Venturelli went to a barber shop to get his hair cut before attending a congressional delegation and he met a man who worked for Rudy Giuliani who gave him four tickets. The rest of the students then scrounged up the final three tickets by waiting in line at congressional offices.
Junior T.J. Fitzpatrick said that the inauguration was an incredible experience.
“It speaks for itself both historically and physically. I don’t think I’ll ever see that many people in such a small area again,” he said.
There was an air of positivity about the district for the duration of the students’ stay. Sophomore Paden Livingston said that the most memorable moment of his trip was actually a discussion with a taxi driver.
“The driver of the taxi was very friendly,” Livingston said. “He was from Indonesia and was so excited to hear we were with The Washington Center. He was listening to our live radio broadcasts all morning on NPR. He said, ‘It is a great thing when a country decides to listen to its youth. You bring much insight from a different perspective.'”
The taxi driver, named Wond, then told the students how much better life is in America than it is in Indonesia.
“It was one of those conversations that made me truly proud to be a citizen of the United States,” Livingston said. “The simple freedoms that we sometimes take for granted are the ones that set us apart from the rest of the world. For me personally it made me want to give even more back to the country that has given me so.”
“Everyone got something different out of this,” McLean said. “If there’s one thing that they all seemed to get out of it though, it was that they were just thrilled to be a part of this historical moment. And they knew how powerful this moment was.”