After a six-hour plane ride, I exhaustedly trudged up the stairs and tossed my heavy bags down on the hotel room floor. As a person with an affinity for local news, I immediately reached for the television remote. After flipping through the channels, I decided on a show covering the Senate hearings of President Trump’s new cabinet members.
While I diligently watched the broadcast, my location sank in: this extremely significant national event was happening right down the street from me. As one of 22 students on Presentation’s Washington, D.C. trip, I would spend the next week experiencing turning points in our nation and relishing the opportunity I was given to witness American history being written in front of my eyes.
This fast-paced trip took us to many incredible places, but for the sake of length, I will recall what I personally found to be the highlights of our stay. On our first day, we were given the opportunity to visit the office of our District Representative, Zoe Lofgren. Unfortunately she was working in California during our visit, but we were able to meet with her staffers, who reminded us how important civic involvement truly is. We were informed that even the simple act of calling her office and voicing our concerns has the potential to influence our elected leaders in Washington.
Thanks to our trip hosts, we were able to secure rare tickets to the newly opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which quickly became one of my favorite experiences on the trip. The expansive and awe-inspiring museum displayed American history through an African American lens, beginning with the Transatlantic Slave Trade and ending with current culture. I found it most interesting to learn that many prominent African American figures have been altered in our common account of history.
In addition, we visited The Newseum, an interactive museum that explores the media and its influence on American life. I left with an utmost appreciation for the freedom of speech and many questions on the future role of media in our changing country.
Finally, on January 20, came the main event: the Inauguration. Security checkpoints proved diligent in their searching operations and made the event feel safe. Protesters gathered outside of the secured areas, although most focused their energy on condemning organized religion and predicting the armageddon rather than protesting the event at hand.
Once inside, we made our way to our assigned section. Zoe Lofgren’s office graciously upgraded our tickets, and if it weren’t for my personal height deficiency, I might have been able to make out the tiny figures on the stage with my own bare eyes. I watched the nearest projector in awe as famous American leaders were introduced on stage, including the Carter’s, the Clinton’s, the Bush’s, and the Obama’s. The incessant booing of the audience that occurred when a Democrat took the stage left me with a poor impression of the crowd, but the patriotic music by the Army band and the beautiful scenery of Washington D.C.’s most iconic structures made up for the negative jeers surrounding me.
Never have I seen so many pink hats as I did on January 21st, the day of the Women’s March on Washington. The positive energy of the women (and men!) standing up for their beliefs was both contagious and inspiring to witness, and several clever signs provided a good laugh. The entire Washington Mall was packed to the point that the march actually become more of a stand-in in many places. The crowds were so enormous that even the various museums along the Mall began to fill with marchers donning the trademark pink hat. I luckily was able to take a tour of the National Museum of American History at this time, where I found an incredible exhibition on the First Ladies of the United States.
Being a part of this trip provided me with the opportunity to witness some of the greatest parts of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power and the right of the people to peacefully assemble. Both events, rare in many places in our world, were striking and powerful in their own, unique ways.
Though it seems that our country has never in recent history been so divided, I began to sense a common theme amongst the seemingly opposite people I observed at the inauguration and march. All of these Americans, regardless of political party, felt that their voices had gone unheard in their society and government. They all desired a country that affords all people the equal opportunity to succeed, the freedom to express their beliefs and convictions, and a safe place to raise their children. While their methods to attain these ideals vary significantly, I hold on to the hope that our innumerable similarities have the power to prompt necessary conversations toward mutual understanding in this newly polarized America.
My stay in Washington D.C. left me with an appreciation for our founding values, a renewed hope for the future of our divided nation, and an overwhelming pride for the great country I call home.