In the early hours of Jan. 20, eight Cathedral High School students and their social studies teacher, Darcy Frank-Henrichs, left the warmth of their hotel to secure a spot on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., to watch the presidential inaugural parade.
Battling the cold and rain was worth it, they said, landing a spot just 30 feet from the presidential viewing area where newly inaugurated President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence sat to watch the rest of the festivities.
“It’s not even something I can explain,” Carrie Sowada, a Cathedral sophomore, told the Visitor by phone from Washington. “It’s something you have to experience.”
Jonathan Pfeiffer, also a sophomore, said that what he’ll remember most about the day was its “intensity.”
“Being here, I’ve learned you never can really know what to expect until it happens. It is really cool to see a president hand off his power to the next president and to see the respect they had for each other here,” he said.
From where they were sitting, the students weren’t able to view the swearing in, but they live-streamed it on their phones and could hear it played over loud speakers.
“During the address, everyone was very excited and eager to hear what President Trump had to say,” junior Tess Jacobson said. “We didn’t know who the president was going to be when we signed up for the trip. But, either way, we knew it would be historic and a very interesting thing to witness.”
The group was there as part of a weeklong high school program through Close Up, a non-partisan, non-profit civic education organization that seeks to form engaged citizens, starting with youth. It began Jan. 16 and included other students from around the United States.
The Cathedral group included four sophomores, Maria Williams, Victoria Schill, Carrie Sowada and Jonathan Pfeiffer; three juniors, Josh Brandmire, Tess Jacobson and Madi Brekken; and senior Maddy Meyer.
The program, designed to give students a chance to see “democracy in action,” included small group discussions, a mock Congress and a seminar discussion involving both conservative and liberal viewpoints on current issues.
Students also met with two Minnesota Congress members, Democratic Sen. Al Franken and Republican Rep. Tom Emmer as well as a legislative aide to Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar. They also attended an inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial Jan. 19 and an inaugural ball Jan. 20 with other students from around the country.
It was Frank-Henrichs’ fifth trip with the organization and her first time attending inaugural activities.
“We’ve really done a lot of things that if you were here on a family trip, you wouldn’t necessarily get to do,” she said. “They really get a taste of the city.”
Close Up has a separate program for teachers that runs concurrently with the students’ programming. Both students and teachers participated in “walking workshops” or “workshops without walls,” in which they visited notable monuments, museums and memorials. Those who were 16 and older visited the Library of Congress and were even issued library cards.
Jacobson said she learned a lot about the “inner workings of government,” especially how much research is being done at any given time, and she was especially touched when visiting the various war memorials.
“We’ve seen a lot of the monuments and it is surprising how much it affects you. We visited a war memorial and it was very sad but it was also very interesting to see all the names of all the people who served our country as well as all of the statues dedicated to them,” she said.
When the students return to their St. Cloud classrooms, they will have the opportunity to talk about their experiences, especially the sophomores, whose current course focuses on government.
“They will be able to chime in and give their experiences from what they saw while they were there — what is was like being in D.C., the inauguration, visiting the different places and monuments, talking about the Constitution,” Frank-Henrichs said.
Pfeiffer said he would like to become more involved in learning about political issues locally when he returns from the trip.
“One of the recommendations from [Sen. Klobuchar’s] staff was to be more active in doing research and also going to our city council and state offices and talking to them about issues in our city and state, ” he said.
For Sowada, the highlight was meeting other students from around the country.
“For me, the best part has been making new friends,” Sowada said. “There’s been a lot of talk about what is our stance, what is our political view, and I’ve never really had those conversations with friends and family before so I think this has been a good time to think about and talk about that.
“If students see an opportunity like this where they can get involved in their government, see how things work and learn how to get more involved with their local government, definitely take it,” she added. “It’s the experience of a lifetime.”