MCS students get front-row seats to presidential inauguration

By Julia Green
Mitchell Hull did something a little special for his birthday this year: he witnessed history. Hull, an eighth-grade student at Margaretville Central School, attended the Junior Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference in Washington, D.C., from Jan. 17-21, and was a spectator at the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.
Hull was selected to attend the Inaugural Conference following his participation in Congressional Youth Leader-ship Council (CYLC) conferences in Washington, D.C., and Boston, Mass., in 2007 and 2008. The CYLC is a nonpartisan educational organization that offers educational leadership conferences for students who have demonstrated excellence in academic performance and community leadership.
Hull’s attendance at the conferences came about after he was nominated to the Congressional Youth Leadership Council (CYLC) by Margaretville teacher Diane Ballard.
Prior to the inauguration, Hull participated in a number of activities aimed at providing young leaders with a deeper understanding of presidential campaigns, the inaugural process and the United States’ democratic principles. Students in Hull’s group had the opportunity to hear speeches delivered by Gen. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore, and Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Students also had the opportunity to visit attractions like the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where they met Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism.
Students also got a taste of Beltway insider sophistication when they attended a Gala Inaugural Ball at the University of Maryland.
Mitchell Hull is the son of Melissa and Gary Hull, grandson of Barbara and Skip Jester, and great-grandson of Ruth and Ralph Smith, all of Margaretville. He is a member of the National Junior Honor Society and plays soccer, basketball and baseball at MCS.
Another Margaretville student was also in the nation’s capita l on Inauguration Day, though with an entirely different program.
Eighth-grader Sean Gauntt traveled to witness history with People to People, a student ambassador program that is part of the larger People to People International, which was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.
“It was organized basically to teach future leaders about government and to be ambassadors,” Gauntt said. “My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Cohen, nominated me. I’ve been to the inauguration and I went out to L.A. for the presidential primaries, and I’ve been to London, Paris and Brussels.”
There were an estimated 2,000 students in D.C. for the inauguration with the People to People program, and they had the opportunity to hear a talk given by Mary Jean Eisenhower, daughter of the former president and current CEO of People to People. Students also had the chance to visit many prominent D.C. landmarks, including Arlington National Cemetery and various monuments. Gauntt’s group also visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation home near Alexandria, Va., and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Despite the various perks, Gauntt said the inauguration ceremony itself was his favorite part, and that the moment during the swearing in of President Obama in which Chief Justice John Roberts pronounced crucial words in the wrong order during the oath of office, which the President was then expected to repeat would be a moment that was cemented in his memory.
“The atmosphere – it was cold, but it was probably a couple degrees warmer because of the crowd, and there were a lot of excited, happy people. One thing I took away is the way our nation has changed, because there were African-American people and white people and people of all different races, and they were all happy that we were getting an African-American president.”
Sean Gauntt is the son of Jim and Renee Gauntt of Arkville.