Brunswick County Students Broaden Experience at the Inauguration
A whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C. during inauguration week provided lifelong images of democracy at work, including the protests, for Brunswick County students.
“Our primary concern was safety,” says Sarah Osborne at Early College High School in Bolivia. An American history teacher for three years, Osborne starting planning the trip in October 2015 for students who had taken or were taking American History, and she chose educational travel company Explorica to organize the tour. Her aim was to have students witness a presidential inauguration, see the peaceful transfer of power and visit historical sites. Forty-nine students took the four-day excursion with Osborne and other chaperones.
Meanwhile, at Jessie Mae Monroe Elementary School in Ash, Giovanni Palmieri, 10, of Sunset Beach, who had attended a National Youth Leadership Forum at Wake Forest University in 2016 through Envision programs, was one of five fifth graders at the Forum nominated to attend the inauguration.
The students say the message they got from President Trump’s speech was that America comes first, but the ceremony was quiet compared to the activity around them. They admit protesters bearing signs and shouting inappropriate language were part of the experience.
Osborne explains that on the way to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture the group passed the Women’s March on Washington, but the students weren’t involved in it at all. It did, however, leave a lasting impression.
“I’ve never seen this many people in one area,” says ECHS student Journee Matthews, 17, of Sunset Beach. “I was in awe of the unity. It made me [glad] they were uniting for something they believe in.”
“The Women’s March was positive energy,” says ECHS student Samantha “Sam” Gorritz, 16, of Bolivia. “Everyone was doing something.”
She adds that her parents weren’t sure she should go to the inauguration. “They were scared about violence,” she says. While she was in D.C., both her grandmothers texted her about the protests because they were worried about her safety.
Osborne had tempered the parents’ concerns about safety at two meetings she held before the trip started. “I’m never going to put your child in danger,” she told parents. “Their safety is our priority.” She talked directly to any parent who had further concerns. ”I convinced these parents that I would keep the students safe,” she says.
Even though the students and chaperones saw a smoke bomb and protesters, “He was safe,” says Palmieri’s mother, Leslie. She explains Envision took precautions, including not allowing parents into the students’ Inauguration Ball because “[Envision] didn’t do background checks on parents,” she says.
“There were so many people protesting,” Giovanni says. “Some were saying cuss words.”
He says he met students from around the world and attended the Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit where he heard speakers Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, Carli Fiorina, former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and her father via satellite.
“It was cool being part of [the inauguration] because not many kids have a chance to do it,” he says.
The students interviewed don’t want to enter politics but want to know what’s happening in government. “I learned a lot more history,” Matthews says.
Osborne is satisfied the students came to a better understanding of government and the build up to an election: primaries, caucuses, conventions. “The things that go into electing a president,” she says. “They saw the culmination.”
She was personally impressed with the traditions and will always remember how she felt at seeing democracy in action.
“Feeling the energy, being in D.C., seeing the Americans express their beliefs and being passionate about their beliefs and their patriotism was profound to me,” she says. “It wasn’t as boisterous as I was anticipating. I saw positivity, unity.”