By Vivian Tan, Sophomore, accounting major from Houston, TX.
While most students were attending their first or second week of spring semester, I hopped on a plane, with scarves and hand warmers packed in my carry-on, to attend the swearing in of the 44th President of the United States. After attending President Obama’s first inauguration through a similar program for high school scholars in 2009, my expectations of the Collegiate Presidential Inaugural Conference (CIPC) were high, and I was by now means disappointed.
As an alum of the National Young Leaders State Conference, I was able to attend this 5-day program, which brought over 900 scholars, ages 18 to 70, from all over the world, including Germany, South America, and Australia together. This networking heavy conference gives scholars the opportunity to mingle with one another as well as significant political leaders, including political consultant Joe Trippi.
Upon arrival at the conference, I was welcomed with conference “swag”, which included an inaugural badge and a welcome book with information about Washington D.C. and the history of the inauguration. The arrival period for the scholars gave early birds (like me) a chance to walk around the hotel and enjoy all of the free amenities the program provided. One of the exciting exhibits the hotel had for the scholars of CPIC was a “Making Connections” Board. This board gave everyone the chance to see how far others had traveled to come to the conference, and where I bumped into a fellow Longhorn!
On inauguration day, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. geared with our inauguration “swag bag” that included hand warmers and snacks, grabbed a quick breakfast and boarded the bus at 5:15 a.m. Usually, a trip to the National Mall only takes 15 minutes; however, this trip took over an hour because we had to go around the city due to blocked streets. We were dropped at the Smithsonian and we were greeted by dinosaur exhibits, ocean exhibits, and the Hope Diamond. Many of us wanted to stay in the Smithsonian to keep warm, but I wanted to get as close to a front-row-seat as I could! A few other scholars and I ventured out into the 16 degree weather to make our way through the crowds of people, I’m sure all dressed in at least 5 layers (like me!). After making our way through two sections of security, we finally found a spot where we could witness history in the making. Playing the part of the typical tourist, I proudly waved my American flag in the air, while still managing to take pictures of anything and everything that happened during the ceremony, from Kelly Clarkson to Beyoncé to people perched in trees (yes, people!).
Throughout the conference, we were split into 32 groups and engaged in discussions that ranged from, “Where did you guys eat last night?” to “What are your thoughts about faith and politics?” We were able to listen to influential keynote speakers, including the power couple Mary Matalin and James Carville. One of the keynote speakers, Jeb Bush, a UT alum who sported a burnt orange tie during his presentation, spoke about education reform and the need for emphasis of comprehension. (I had the urge to scream out “TEXAS” in hopes of the returning “FIGHT”, but I decided to refrain.) One of the most inspiring (and my favorite) moments of the conference was when Reverend Jesse L. Jackson spoke to us. He made the entire room stand and chant his poem “I Am – Somebody” and told us, “We are not the future, we are now,” reassuring us that we CAN make a difference.
Being able to experience this historical event with my new but great friends from all over the world was honestly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I learned so many things from others that I would never have had the opportunity to learn in a classroom. Although my time at the conference was short, it was truly inspiring and something I will never forget.
To become involved in this program you must be alum of one of the following: Congressional Youth Leadership Council, National Young Scholars Program, National Youth Leadership Forum, International Scholar Laureate Program, Golden Key International Honour Society, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, National Society of High School Scholars, or National Society of Collegiate Scholars.
* I was nominated in middle school for National Youth Leaders State Conference and also attended the High School Presidential Inaugural Conference.