Vincent students witnesses to history

Published 4:52 pm Friday, January 23, 2009

When Vincent High School teacher Sam McKissick was a young boy, he dreamed of achieving the impossible: becoming the nation’s first black president.

In college, McKissick studied political science and realized just how much work, preparation and luck is required to become president. He let his dream slip away, deciding instead to go into education.

This week, McKissick was in Washington D.C. to be there as Barack Obama achieved his goal for him.

“We came here unwillingly, as slaves. This is just a vindication,” McKissick said of the inauguration. “We can do just as well as anyone else, and this validates that.”

McKissick was part of a group of 20 adults and 35 Vincent High students who made the trip to the inauguration, leaving Jan. 17 and returning Jan. 22.

For the students, the trip was a chance to witness a moment that would go down in history books.

“I just wanted to be a part of history, and it’s a great experience I can tell my children about, and they can tell their children,” said sophomore Ivan Williams. “You don’t get to see the first black president every day.”

It cost each student $660 to make the trip to D.C., which was a steep price but completely worth it for junior Aeril Robertson.

“I can’t even explain how good I felt,” said Robertson. “Personally, my feelings don’t have to do with him being black. It was just being there. I could see a change coming. I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh.”

The school has been planning the trip since April 2007, so the trip was a definite no matter who won the presidential election. McKissick said he believed every American should make the trip to see an inauguration at least once.

“You really get a sense of what this country is all about. Things you’ve read about, you see up close and personal,” he said. “I wanted them to see the peaceful transition of power.”

Getting to the inauguration itself was an ordeal. Some members of the group left at 3 a.m. — those people actually got on the National Mall. Other group members who left at 6:30 a.m., including McKissick, were not so lucky.

“We must have walked 10 miles that day,” McKissick said. “We were on the fringe of the mall. We heard everything, but we didn’t see it.”

Still, the only thing that mattered was just being there, said senior Daylan Woodall, who wore a shirt that proclaimed his love for Michelle Obama.

“It was about being able to take part in it, and being able to stand close to the Capitol while he was giving his speech,” Woodall said.

However, nothing topped the moment when Obama officially became president, said junior Jerrica Hamilton, clad in a red-white-and-blue “Inauguration 2009” sweatshirt.

“The 21-gun salute at 12:01 p.m. was just so amazing,” she said. “It meant so much because that was the minute everything changed.”