Students Continue Tradition of Attending Presidential Inauguration
Call it a trip of “capital” gains of presidential proportions for dozens of students from Sacred Heart University who recently made the trek to Washington, D.C., to witness the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.
The journey to the nation’s capital this January marked the eighth trip that Gary Rose, chairman of SHU’s Department of Government and Politics, has organized since he joined the University over three decades ago. The trip was originated by Rose’s former political science colleague, Professor John Kikoski, who is now retired from Sacred Heart.
Rose, a frequent political pundit in the media and a prolific author, shepherded his first trip to the inauguration during President Ronald Reagan’s second term in 1985. “From what I can determine, Sacred Heart is the only university in Connecticut that has such a tradition,” he said, adding that one of the standouts among those experiences was 2009 when President Obama was first inaugurated as president.
“In many ways, Obama’s first inauguration was a global event that was attended by close to two million people and watched all over the world,” Rose noted. That year, he chartered two buses and took close to 100 students to witness the swearing in of the country’s first African-American president.
“That was truly a phenomenal ceremony. But the inauguration we just attended was also very popular and attended by slightly more than one million people, which still suggests great enthusiasm for this president,” he added.
The three-day trip was packed with engaging events. Following their arrival, the students listened to an enlightening lecture on the 2012 election by Catholic University of America political science professor, John K. White, who is a widely published scholar in the area of American electoral politics. White also led and narrated a “moonlight” tour of the national monuments. The next day, the group visited the Smithsonian Museums, followed by a policy briefing with U.S. Representative Jim Himes (D-4). The Congressman, whose legislative district includes Sacred Heart, spent close to a full hour with the students.
As much as 2009 was special with President Obama’s meteoric rise, worldwide popularity and pledge for substantive change, Rose said each inauguration generates a great deal of enthusiasm and awe among the students – regardless of who is inaugurated and if it’s the president’s first or second term. “Each one is very special and historic,” he said.
One of Rose’s fondest memories is of when President Reagan left office in 1989. “He circled the Washington Mall in his helicopter several times waving at the people below as he departed the capital. That brought a tear to my eye,” Rose recalled.
Another highlight came in 1989 when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia met with him and the students for 30 minutes. The briefing was arranged by a former student who was employed on a congressional staff. “Justice Scalia came out behind the ‘purple curtain’ and talked to the students about his life on the high court. That, too, was extremely special,” Rose said.
For Faustine Jean-Louis, a senior from Bridgeport, the opportunity to view the inauguration of the 44th president couldn’t be missed, and the moment underscored the fundamental democratic principles the country was founded on. “We are taught that in a democracy every voice should be heard and no one man is better than the other. This event celebrates the growth of America, despite its imperfections,” said Jean-Louise, who serves as vice president of Sacred Heart’s chapter of College Democrats and PAIS. “This wasn’t just the president being inaugurated for a second term; this was the people of America being inaugurated. We have come far despite the trials we have been through, and I don’t say this lightly.”
Like Jean-Louise, Joshua Murphy, who is the vice president of College Republicans at SHU, said the trip to the beltway was an opportunity to get a first-hand glimpse of the democratic process. “I was really interested to see our republic in action,” said Murphy, who is a sophomore from Glastonbury. “In the United States, we have a system that not many people around the world get to experience. Our democracy is alive and well, and events like inaugurations prove this.”
For history major Winnie Maloney, who is a Madison native, attending the event was also meaningful, not just as a scholarly experience, but also a personal one. “I went for the historical aspect and meaning this weekend would have. Being in the midst of something that will one day be a part of a history book is just mind-blowing for me,” said the sophomore, who is also the secretary of Sacred Heart’s chapter of College Republicans. “I’ve always taken for granted that we elect our officials to govern our country. If we think about it, we could be subjects of a king or a dictator. Instead, we elect someone who does not have supreme control. That is what makes inaugurations so great.”