15 Hours, 4 Flights Get 107 to D.C.
It took more than 15 hours and four separate flights for all 107 Centerville Junior High School students and chaperones to travel from California's Bay Area to the District last night and today.
After school yesterday, the group met at the San Francisco airport. Some of the students -- dubbed the "lucky group" by their schoolmates -- scored a direct, red-eye flight. Another group had a quick connection in San Diego. The last two flights connected in Chicago, where the adults worried about the weather and the kids soldiered through layovers.
But by early afternoon, everyone had safely arrived -- although most were sleepy -- and jumped into a day of museum hopping on the Mall.
About a year ago, history teacher Jeremy Vilkins decided to bump the Fremont school's annual eighth grade trip to D.C. from April to January so students could witness the inauguration of a new president.
"At that point we didn't even know who the front-runners were," Vilkins said. He also didn't know that his wife would get pregnant and have an inaugural week due date, keeping both of them home.
So, former Centerville principal Garo Mirigian agreed to step out of retirement to escort the group on its five-day whirlwind tour of museums and memorials. This is one of the largest trips the school has organized, he said, and definitely the most complicated.
"For me, it's exciting," Mirigian said. "I don't even care if I see anything. I just want to be in the city as this is happening."
The significance of the inauguration wasn't lost on the students, either, although a few are excited about an inaugural ball for teens Monday night. In the fall, the students held a mock debate and election (Obama won, they say). And before they left, Vilkins filled his history classes with lessons about previous inaugurations.
"We figured it would be historic," said David Masterson, 13. "Obama is the first black president."
Chaperone Carol Henderson, whose daughter Kimberly is on the trip, said she was amazed to hear the students discussing politics as they prepared for this trip.
"I'm really glad to see this next generation has taken such an interest," said Henderson, who traveled to D.C. with her own eighth grade class in 1969. "The future is really in their hands."
-- Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Editors
January 17, 2009; 3:38 PM ET
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