WASHINGTON • Michael Maclin, principal at University City High School, believes in what he calls “real world learning” for students.
“You can talk about the Senate, the House and the election process, but a trip to the inauguration is something people will never forget,” Maclin said.
Twenty-six of Maclin’s juniors and seniors might prove their principal right after concluding a three-day trip to Washington by attending President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
Carl Sechrist, one of the students, described a crowd variously estimated between 700,000 and 1 million people as “completely overwhelming.”
“I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect it. They said the crowd would be ‘crushing,’” he said. “But I didn’t appreciate it until I got there.”
The local entourage had some choice standing room tickets behind the Capitol Reflecting Pool, for which they thanked Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. That gave them a straight-on view about 200 yards from the podium where Obama’s ceremonial oath of office and speech took place.
Behind them stretched the National Mall and a sea of people that, as the principal suggested, students might never forget.
“Just looking back all the way to the Washington Monument, at the mass of people, was incredible,” said student Grace Deitzler. “I’ve never seen that many people in my life, everybody there for the same purpose of sharing the moment.”
It was more than just atmospherics that captivated these students. Count them among the Americans weary of gridlock in polarized Washington, one of the themes in the president’s speech.
Obama “said we can’t mistake this bantering, this back-and-forth, for real political discourse, that we can’t just bicker with each other because that’s not what real legislative bodies do,” said student Ethan Farber.
ENTHUSIASM NOT LACKING
This time around, there was no groundbreaking history, no transfer of power. But it didn’t necessarily mean a lack of enthusiasm.
“It doesn’t have the sizzle of the first inauguration, but it is a historic moment,” observed Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Gov. Jay Nixon got here on Sunday for a brief visit that included a reception at Vice President Joe Biden’s residence at the Grounds of the Naval Observatory.
Having just experienced his own second inauguration, Nixon remarked in an interview that “it is a time that causes you to think both backward and forward.”
The parallel between Jefferson City and Washington, he said, is that “it is a challenge sometime in modern politics to get something done.”
Four years ago, McCaskill had duties as co-chairwoman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee and hosted her own party. This year, she had no formal role and held no party, but she planned to be on hand with family members for the ceremonial oath of office.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, held a lottery to dispense some 225 tickets to St. Louisans after getting more than 1,000 ticket requests. It was a difficult process; he needed to finagle extra tickets from Republican colleagues who had them to give.
Then some of his 1st District lottery winners experienced “sticker shock,” as he put it, when they found out that some Washington hotels were requiring four-night minimum stays.
The Lesbian and Gay Band Association was on hand for an encore inauguration performance, alongside high school marchers, military bands, dancers and all of the other 57 groups chosen by the inaugural committee.
“It’s kind of awe-inspiring to have people come together like this from all around the country,” said Lawrence Miskel, of St. Louis, a saxophone player with LGBA who performed at his second inauguration.
In the 1990s, the band was part of sideline entertainment in the inaugural parades of Bill Clinton. In 2001 and 2005, they had no role when George W. Bush took the oath of office. But four years ago, the LGBA’s application to perform was accepted for Obama’s first inauguration.
Miskel, 33, called the invitation this year “a milestone. It’s really kind of symbolic being there, and not just for ourselves.”
The group’s 200-plus band members drilled in Baltimore over the weekend, preparing for the 1.5-mile parade route from the U.S. Capitol to the White House. They planned to perform four songs, ranging from the traditional “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to a version of Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.”
“There are so many groups that applied to be part of the parade this year. For them to accept us back for the second time speaks a lot about the motivation of this administration,” said trumpet player Sara Gamblin-Luig, 36, also from St. Louis.