By Emily Younker
The 14 students from Pittsburg High School who were in Washington, D.C., for President Barack Obama’s inauguration were not going to miss their wake-up call Monday, their teacher said.
“The students were up at 4:15 this morning and on site (at the National Mall) at 6 o’clock,” Gary Wolgamott, a government teacher at the Kansas school, said by telephone Monday afternoon. “We were probably about 10 to 12 blocks from the actual area of the Capitol building where the ceremony took place.”
Wolgamott and his students are in the nation’s capital for the inauguration of Obama to his second term, which they watched via large screens set up on the National Mall. The trip was organized by WorldStrides, an educational nonprofit travel group that has been offering inaugural trips for 20 years by invitation only. It was coordinated at the school level by Wolgamott.
Wolgamott said he and his students stayed for the entire ceremony, starting with the seating of the politicians and dignitaries in attendance through Obama’s inaugural speech. He said the ceremony was steeped with history and rituals, from the Bibles being used during the swearing-in of the president to the 21-gun salute from Arlington National Cemetery.
“There’s a tradition here, and the traditions that are being practiced are the same ones we started off with when the nation was started,” he said. “It’s amazing to stand there and watch these processes that go back to the time of the Founding Fathers.”
Wolgamott often shows a video of presidents’ inaugural speeches in his classes, but to hear one firsthand was a unique experience for his students, he said.
“I think being there adds a whole different perspective, especially when you have the crowd around you responding to what’s being said, so you’re kind of feeding off the people around you,” he said. “The kids brought an American flag, so they were going crazy.”
Wolgamott said he hopes his students will use the experience to become more civic-minded residents of their community.
“Like I told our students, it doesn’t matter whether you support his policies or not,” he said. “It’s (about) the respect of the office he holds, and that’s one of those character-educational opportunities to hopefully make them better citizens in the future.”
Since arriving in Washington on Saturday, the group has visited the Library of Congress, the Capitol, the National Archives, the Smithsonian museums, Arlington National Cemetery and several memorials, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
“We were there (at Arlington cemetery) when President Obama was there putting the wreath on the Unknown Soldier’s grave,” Wolgamott said. “We didn’t get to see him, obviously, but we saw his motorcade, and that was pretty impressive for the students.”
Today the group plans to visit Ford’s Theatre and perhaps the National Archives once more before flying out this afternoon.
“It’s been a very whirlwind three days so far, but that’s good,” Wolgamott said. “We’re all tired, but it’s a good tired.”
Also in Washington
MEMBERS OF THE McDonald County High School band as well as Sanjay Jenkins, a junior at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School in Joplin, also were in the nation’s capital Monday for activities related to the president’s inauguration.