Inauguration was surreal for Parkites
January 23, 2009
While most people watched the inauguration of Barack Obama from their homes or offices, a handful of lucky Parkites were in the midst of the one million-plus people crammed onto the National Mall. Of those who attended the historic event, three were students who attend Treasure Mountain International School.
Forrest Young scored his ticket to the inauguration through the National Young Leaders Program, which accepts students from around the country to participate in an annual conference in Washington, D.C. Young’s teachers nominated him for the conference last year because he demonstrates strong leadership skills in the classroom.
Young, who is 14, flew to Washington by himself on Jan. 17. During his four days in the capital, Young packed in a myriad of activities. He attended a leadership conference with a couple thousand of his peers, heard a blind man talk about his experience climbing Mt. Everest, listened to speeches by Colin Powell, Dee Dee Myers, and Al Gore, visited the Smithsonian, and of course attended the Inauguration Day events.
Young says there’s only one way to describe the atmosphere on the Mall: "Everybody was excited." His favorite part was listening to Obama’s inaugural speech. "It was really cool," he says. "He sounds very powerful in person." When asked if his experience is something he will share with his children and grandchildren many years from now, Young replies, "There’s no question about it."
Karsyn Robb snagged an invitation to Washington after serving as a People-to-People Student Ambassador. Robb traveled to Australia with the program in 2007 and was nominated by her student leader to join other ambassadors at the inauguration.
Fourteen-year-old Robb raised $2,000 on her own to be able to go to Washington, D.C. She participated in bake sales and craft fairs, selling everything from handmade jewelry to pretzels, to get enough money for airfare and accommodations. It was her first trip to the city and Robb says she was excited to visit the various buildings and monuments, learning about past presidents and United States history.
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Despite the cold weather (she wore about six layers of clothing, she explains), Robb says the emotion and camaraderie she felt standing in the crowd was amazing. "My favorite part was seeing how people were tearing up and waving their flags," she says. "It was a very historic event that I think changed people’s lives, hopefully for the better."
Kevin Whiting’s path to the inauguration is more of a fairytale. Last year, Whiting was diagnosed with Wilkes Syndrome, a rare anomaly that results from the positioning of an artery on top of the small intestine rather than behind it, gradually making it increasingly difficult to digest food. Whiting went through a difficult corrective surgery to reroute his intestines last summer. During the recovery period, he was only able to ingest food through an intravenous tube and was too weak to attend school.
The twist is that Whiting’s plight parallels Obama’s journey to the White House. His surgery coincided with the Democratic convention. He spent his recuperation period following Obama’s campaign trail and getting involved in the issues at hand. "Obama’s hope for the country captured Kevin’s spirit," says his mother, Vicki. "There were times when hope was the only thing that kept him going." Election night was the first time in months that Whiting felt strong enough to socialize with friends and neighbors. "That night, the whole family felt a major shift, "Vicki says. "At that point, we felt like anything was possible." On Dec. 23, the Whitings got the news that Kevin’s intestines had responded to the surgery and would eventually become fully functional.
Vicki recognized the message of hope that Obama symbolized for her son and sent letters to local politicians explaining the family’s plight and requesting tickets to the inauguration. Months later, the family received news from Senator Bob Bennett’s office that they had four tickets to the event. However, there are five members of the Whiting family. Vicki shared her story on KPCW and a community member who had received an extra ticket through the Navy gladly gave it to the Whitings so that the whole family could go on the trip.
Fifteen-year-old Kevin, his parents, his 17-year-old brother and his 13-year-old sister sat on the steps of the Capital on Inauguration Day. "We were close enough to toss a ball back and forth with Obama," Vicki says. Although Kevin was in a wheelchair and not feeling well, he braved the cold and the crowds to hear the new president speak. "It was hard, but it was worth it," he says. He says that the most inspiring part was the way Obama brought everyone together. He went on to say that if Obama can take on all of the challenges that the country is facing, then he can keep taking on his own challenges.
Following the events at the Capitol, the Whitings attended a reception with senators and representatives. As they were leaving, the parade was starting up directly in front of them. "It was a surreal day start to finish," Vicki says.