Picture two college friends in a busy cafeteria — with hundreds of students passing by, overstressed by midterms — sitting and thinking and talking about the recent presidential election.
Someone had mentioned to us earlier that Worcester State University had arranged student-led trips to Washington, D.C., to witness the first and second inaugurations of President Obama, truly historic events. So I leaned over and asked my friend, “I don’t see why we wouldn’t [attend Donald Trump’s inauguration] just because most of the people here disagree with his politics?”
And so began a months-long trial testing the abilities of two students who had never planned a campus event before, never mind an off-campus, out-of-state journey.
We met with some advisers — and left the meeting hopeless.
We thought there was just not enough time before the end of the semester. The pile of paperwork required was immense and the logistics required within two or three weeks’ time was overwhelming. With no real idea what to do, we started with what we thought was the most important thing: student interest.
You might be surprised at the level of interest we found. History majors like myself finally looked up from our books when the idea of watching the democratic and peaceful transition of power take place was mentioned. But it wasn’t just history and political science majors; students of math, business, finance, English, even master’s candidates were reaching out, wondering how to get a ticket. By the time we were finished our list of interested classmates was just shy of 50, more than enough to fill a bus.
So we took the next step.
We reached out to some other advisers we knew around campus, chiefly in the Office of the President and the John J. Binienda Center for Civic Engagement, and we were reenergized.
It was possible again.
These advisers transformed what we thought was just a dream into a reality — albeit one we would have to earn. Faced with an estimate of roughly $5,500 for the trip in total, between the transportation and tickets, we knew what we had to do.
My friend Meaghan (a classmate and fellow SGA officer) and I tried to get in contact with many different organizations, departments and offices on campus. We were generously rewarded for our efforts. The Honors Program at Worcester State contributed about half of the funds, and we were able to secure the rest through the Office of the President and the proceeds from selling tickets for $30 for students to attend the trip.
But there was icing on the cake.
Mark Wagner, director of the Binienda Center, notified us that he was able to receive 10 coveted inauguration tickets from the Office of U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, and that these would put us much closer to the U.S. Capitol building than we expected. Who would have guessed a trip that started out of a side conversation of two students would get this kind of treatment?
Plans were finalized — finally — the Monday before the inauguration, Jan. 16.
Twenty students [Editor’s note: The late-breaking plans and beginning of new classes cut into the initial interest.] and three chaperones dragged themselves onto a very nice bus at 9 o’clock on a Thursday night, only 15 hours before then President-elect Trump was to take the oath of office. We were eager to witness such an historic moment, but probably even more eager to get some rest on this eight-hour, midnight ride.
We pulled up to Trinity Washington University at about 5 a.m., as the school agreed to let us park our bus there and use its locker rooms to freshen up. Many of the students were first-timers to America’s capital and found themselves in awe as we walked by our first landmark: the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and then farther down Michigan Avenue, underground into an intricate Metro system.
A few of us have been to major cities with transportation systems like this, but not all of us – and we struggled to figure out which train was heading in which direction.
After unfolding the many pocket-maps of the metro system, we figured it out and arrived shortly past downtown. Less than 100 yards or so from where we exited, most of the group found ourselves at our final destination — the Silver gate entrance — while others went off to explore landmarks like the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington memorials before lining up on the parade route.
I had imagined walking through a metal detector, but most of us were surprised to see National Guard, Secret Service, Border Patrol and TSA workers all screening individuals as they emptied their pockets of cellphones and loose change. It was a stark reminder that these programs are not only fodder for the news, but a functioning and crucial part of our national security.
And we were in.
Ten of us, overjoyed to hold a ticket that “Requests the honor of [our] presence” from some of the most powerful people in our country, tried to get as close as we could to both the Capitol building and the huge screen that displayed a panoramic view of the crowd and city. We knew this was the right spot and settled in, about four hours early.
After draining our phone batteries scrolling through apps, FaceTiming our friends and family, and taking pictures of the seemingly endless flood of people, important figures in our nation’s government started to walk out onto the stage while the U.S. Marine Band played different tunes.
The amped-up crowd reacted to everything, and even often made their own entertainment as different people came on the big screen. Cheers like “40 more minutes!” and “Get packin’!” rang out as images and videos of President Obama flashed across the screen.
Even worse was the hate we observed when pictures of Hillary Clinton inevitably popped up, as she accompanied her husband onto the platform. Some teased at her obviously emotional face, as she must have still wished that was her moment, but most screamed in disgust at the sight of her, which I found really weird.
But the moment came.
“I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear …” and the crowd turned to crickets. No one made a sound until he said “… So help me God.”
Then the fun began, even though this is when the drizzle started. “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” rang out from hundreds of thousands of people who were there, and during his fiery speech I found myself proud to be an American, proud to be at the event, and ready to take on the world.
His promises of cleaning up our cities, putting people back to work, giving power back to the people, and putting “America First” sparked a fire in the crowd. Hopefully, that flame of excitement and motivation will live on, and hopefully those promises will be kept.
As President Trump finished his speech, and the light drizzle turned into a shower, our group scurried back onto the Metro, and back to Trinity Washington U. While we waited for the others on a warm bus, happily eating bagels and fruit cups, we kept marveling at and reliving how we had just witnessed history.
There is nothing like seeing such a powerful and moving moment in your country’s history, one that will be remembered forever — regardless of your political leanings — and we will never be the same for it.
We want to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Worcester State University who made this a possibility: the Office of the President, the Honors Department, and Mark Wagner in the Binienda Center, and all the chaperones and students who made it happen. The university really proved to us with this that if students want to dream big, it will bring those dreams within reach.
Travis Nichols is a member of the Class of 2019 at Worcester State University, where he is a student senator and secretary of the Student Government Association executive board. He is a program development intern at the Latino Education Institute and is the WSU student representative to the Worcester World Affairs Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.