Day filled with challenges for Buhach Colony students in D.C.

01/21/2009 2:15 AM

01/21/2009 2:17 AM

WASHINGTON -- Witnessing history isn't for the faint of heart.

It was dark, early and cold. They felt as if they'd just closed their eyes and fallen asleep.

Warm beds beckoned them back as they stood up to leave.

But they stayed upright Tuesday morning, and the students of Buhach Colony High School boarded a bus from Gaithersburg, Va., to the Washington Nationals baseball stadium in Washington, D.C.

Soon, the chaos in the nation's capital roused them fully awake.

From the stadium, the students walked two miles with the hordes of other tourists to a security checkpoint and stood in line for several hours.

In hand were their tickets for special seating at the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.

The crowds were dense, security lines long, and after several hours, the students were turned away.

Everyone was deeply upset, their teacher Travis Harding said.

Fast-forward for a happier ending.

After a couple hours of frantic seat-searching, the students returned with their original tickets and enjoyed a close-up view of the festivities.

"It was crazy," Harding said. "There were times when it felt like you didn't even need your legs to stand, the crowd was so dense."

It was the ultimate field trip for the students enrolled in a college-level government course at the Atwater high school.

A recent Golden Valley graduate, Marit Medefind, stood in the same section as she watched the inaugural events. Medefind graduated from Golden Valley in 2008 and now attends Harvard University (alma mater of both president and first lady).

Medefind said she could almost touch and feel the excitement at the event.

"It was really kind of neat," she said. "There were so many people from different backgrounds and from so many different places, and they all came together for this one event."

Dexter Mullins, of Sacramento, put his college courses to work for his trip to the inaugural events. Mullins, 20, is a junior journalism major at North Carolina A&T State University and also works as managing editor of the student newspaper.

"This event was so important for me," Mullins said. "I want to cover the event well for the newspaper, but I also want to be ale to tell my kids that I was there, that I was a part of everything."

Dorla Flowers, 46, of Los Angeles, dragged her sister and two nieces to the event. She hoped it would be the ultimate civics lesson for the young girls.

"I keep telling them that we live in a state with an Austrian as a governor, a city with a Latino as mayor, and a country with an African-American as president," said Flowers, who immigrated from Belize with her sister. "This is a great country."

Flowers had heard Obama speak at an event four years ago and "something came over" her, she recalled. Flowers told her mother after that event that Obama would be the next president of the United States. Her mother laughed.

"I am just so, so happy," Flowers said as she stood on the Mall waiting for the event to begin.

Flowers' 11-year-old niece, Pauline Welcome, seemed similarly smitten.

"I think it is great that we have an African-American for president," the sixth-grader said before flashing her tickets to the seated area nearest to the Capitol. "I think that he will help America get better."

Obama's first speech as president encouraged Americans to persevere through the nation's current hard times and plan for a better future.

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and being again the work of remaking America," Obama said. "For everywhere we look, there is work to be done."

That touched Buhach Colony's Harding.

"It was just awesome listening to the new president's remarks regarding the future," Harding said. "The future he speaks of is the one my students will grow up in."

Until then, the students had napped on the floor of the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum while they waited for the other high schools in their tour group to arrive.

Harding said the group would spend the rest of inauguration day napping and sleeping at their hotel in Virginia. The first meal of the day for most? They would order in pizza.

"Right now, a lot of them are finding it hard to stand up straight," Harding said Tuesday afternoon.

Clearly, watching history being made can even tire out a bunch of teenagers.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.

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