Trip to Washington, D.C. “Eye-Opening” for Union High School Students


SO HELP ME GOD - The public swearing-in of President Barack Obama by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, pictured above, came approximately 24 hours after a private administering of the oath of office was held on Sunday, January 20, in accordance with the 20th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Photo courtesy of

SO HELP ME GOD – The public swearing-in of President Barack Obama by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, pictured above, came approximately 24 hours after a private administering of the oath of office was held on Sunday, January 20, in accordance with the 20th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Photo courtesy of

In the 237 year history of the United States,  only 57 formal inaugural ceremonies have been held. Last month, 19 students from Union High School and their chaperones traveled to Washington, D.C. to witness the most recent one, the swearing-in of President Barack Obama. Interestingly enough, by the time the group’s plane had landed on January 20, President Obama had already taken the oath of office in a private ceremony, in accordance with the Twentieth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which mandates January 20 as the date of Inauguration. In 2013, Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, just the seventh time since the Twentieth Amendment was ratified in 1933. That is why President Obama’s public Inauguration Day ceremonies were held one day later, on Monday, January 21.
For the group from Union High School, Inauguration Day came after a day of travel to Washington, D.C. turned out to be much longer than it should have been. The combination of mechanical issues (aircraft) and a minor traffic accident (tour bus), pushed their arrival to the capital back several hours later than originally scheduled. Fortunately, there was still enough time left on Sunday evening to get a look  at the World War II, Lincoln, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials.
So, with a full schedule of events ahead of them, the excitement of Inauguration Day began very early in the morning for the Union students. Their bus would be one of some 2,500 tour buses navigating the streets of Washington, D.C. that day. Their group of 22 would be walking among an expected throng of 800,000 to one million people around the U.S. Capitol. And because of a special set of regulations dictating where tour buses could drop their passengers, the 26 mile journey into Washington from their Gaithersburg, Maryland hotel would be punctuated by a two-mile hike that would get them to their vantage point of the ceremony- roughly a mile from the U.S. Capitol.
Along the way, there were amazing sights and sounds all around them to capture their attention. One very dramatic sight was the presence of snipers positioned along rooftops above. Also noticeable, though not nearly as dramatic, was the vast number of porta-potties positioned along the route. Event organizers reported the placement of approximately 2,000 porta-potties in the immediate area where the Inauguration events were staged.
Most noticeable to the students was an “air of excitement” around them. There were thousands of flags being distributed to the crowd, so many that it was difficult to get an unobstructed view of the large-screen jumbotron near them.
“There were headbands, scarves, people decked out in Obama gear from head-to-toe, signs and buttons,” one student noted.
It was also clear to the Union students that the crowd was definitely a pro-Democratic Party one. They cited examples of the cheers that would erupt when images of Democrats appeared on the big screen, contrasted by the boos bellowed out when the screen displayed members of the Republican party.
There was another moment of great excitement for the students that came just prior to the swearing-in of President Obama- the introduction of a Grammy Award winning artist who would sing “America the Beautiful.” Eager to catch a glimpse of Beyonce and hear her sing, a silence of disappointment set in when the artist being introduced was actually James Taylor. And for the record, it was equally surprising for the students in attendance at the Inauguration to later learn that Beyonce’s “live” rendition of the National Anthem was, in fact, lip-synched.
All-in-all, the opportunity to witness history, the 57th Inauguration of a United States President, was a moment no history class lecture could compare.
Beyond the historical and political significance of the event was another reality of importance for these teenagers from Iowa. Standing for several hours in Washington, D.C., waiting for the festivities to begin with no tour bus in sight, it was cold- the kind of stubborn cold that sets in and doesn’t willingly go away.
It was also a day filled with walking. Jennifer Gassman, High School Teacher/Librarian and chaperone, tallied a total of 7.5 miles of ground covered on Inauguration Day alone. With two more days of sight-seeing in the nation’s capital still ahead of the group from Union High School, there would be even more ground to cover.

The Landmarks

As part of their trip to Washington, D.C., students from Union Hgh School had the opportunity to visit several national monuments and landmarks in and around the nation’s capital.

The U.S. Capitol
The United States Capitol is home to the nation’s Legislative Branch and is responsible for making the laws that govern the land. The Congress consists of two bodies, the House of Representatives, where membership is determined by the population of each state, and the Senate, where each state has two members.

Did you know?
The cast iron dome atop the Capitol is the fourth largest in the world. It rises 180 feet above the floor and weighs nearly nine million pounds.
The Capitol has remained open all night long only once in history- when John F. Kennedy was laid in state in the Rotunda prior to his funeral.

The White House
The White House is the home of the President and his family, in addition to the official home of the Executive Branch of the government, whose function is to carry out the laws of our nation.

Did you know?
Of the 134 rooms in the White House, 32 are reserved for the President’s residential and private quarters.
In 1814, the British attacked and burned the President’s house. Three years later, the President’s house was restored and painted white to hide the burn marks.
In 1901, President Teddy Roosevelt officially changed the name of the President’s house from the “Executive Mansion” to the “White House.”

Next week: The history lessons learned in Washington. D.C. continue, including an emotional trip to the Holocaust Memorial.