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Not An Ordinary Field Trip

We all remember those dreadful U.S. History classes when we had to memorize the presidents, including all those unmemorable guys who ran together in the middle: James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce. And what the heck was the Whig Party, anyway?

But as another presidential inaugural draws nigh, it’s worth noting that thousands of students will get to experience the pomp and ceremony not from reading textbooks but by seeing it with their own eyes. Among those gathering on the National Mall when Barack Obama takes the oath of office will be the 15,300 students, ranging in age from 5th grade through college, who are scheduled to attend the 7th Congressional Youth Leadership Council Jan. 17-21 in Washington.

Held every four years to coincide with the inauguration, the conference is intended to give students from across the country, and even some international students, a chance to witness history up close. In addition to attending the swearing-in ceremony and the parade, the students will hear speeches from Al Gore, Colin Powell, historian Doris Kearnes Goodwin Carmen, political strategists James Carville and Mary Myers and reporter Lisa Ling.

Carmen McClaskey, a spokeswoman for the event, said the students, each of whom paid a fee to attend, will stay at 60 hotels across the region. They will be divided up into three groups: middle school, high school and college and participate in “age appropriate” events. The high schoolers will have a black tie gala at the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport and the college students will party at the Hirshhorn. The middle schoolers will be at the University of Maryland.

On the day of the inauguration, the group has reserved space at museums on the National Mall for a hot chocolate social in the morning, after which they’ll head outside to stake their spots in the crowd. Then the older students will be free to watch the parade or, if they wish, head to Nationals Park to watch on the jumbo scoreboard, McClaskey said.

Now if we’d gotten hot chocolate and a black tie gala when we were in school, maybe we’d know who Millard Fillmore was, after all.

By David A Nakamura  |  November 12, 2008; 1:44 PM ET  | Category:  Youth
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