Hilltop on the Hill, 2013 Inauguration

Twenty-one communication studies and journalism students are in Washington, D.C., in January 2013 as part of the Meadows School of the Arts’ Hilltop on the Hill program. In addition to reporting on Inaugural events, the students will visit media and government sites, and meet with political communicators, journalists and SMU alumni. The trip is led by Rita Kirk, professor of communication studies; Daniel Schill, assistant professor of communication studies, and Carolyn Barta, journalism professor. Endowed by the Bauer Foundation, the Hilltop on the Hill program also takes students studying political communication to political party conventions and the G8 Economic Summit.

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Reflecting on Inauguration Day

An update from Julie, a senior journalism major who is blogging about Inauguration weekend on smudailycampus.com, where this post originally was published:

I just got back from the 57th Presidential Inauguration, and what an experience. I woke up at 5 this morning, and after four and a half hours of sleep, I was surprisingly energetic.

I bundled up in my scarf, gloves, hat and coat and was on my way. I found out late last night that I was able to be in a seated section, and jumped at the opportunity to get those seats. Thank you so much to the amazing people I met at the California inaugural ball for setting me up big time! The slight downside, I had to pick them up this morning at the Washington Court hotel so I left earlier than my colleagues.

I made the trek over to find that the city was deserted, except for the thousands of officers and security on hand. Streets were being blocked off by buses, hummers and blockades so there were almost no cars around.

When I arrived where the lines were set up, I heard so many people around me who had come to the 2009 inauguration. There were sighs of relief from those who were able to bring in water and breakfast, as this was not allowed four years ago. They also could not believe how quickly the lines were moving.

I breezed through security (not in a bad way – it was incredibly thorough, but I was prepared), and was on my way. I made it through just as the sun was rising over the Capitol, and to sound extremely cheesy, there was something magical about that moment. I forgot how small this city makes me feel. So many important, influential and inspirational men and women have walked these streets. I guess I hope to find my place here one day.

Getting to my seat, this very nice Navy Seal instructed me that seats were filling from front to back. The entire area was almost empty, and I managed to score a second-row seat. I snapped a few pictures and took my seat next to two older women.

If there is one thing I can say about the inauguration, it’s that you will wait forever, and you will become very close friends with the section you are sitting or standing in.

The crowd of people I was with were amazing. Majority of them had been to the 2009 inauguration, but for some this was their first time. I met people from Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, California, Montana and so many more states who were here to celebrate.

The two women I sat next to had known President Obama before he ran for U.S. state senator, and were even on a first-name basis with him at some point. They were so incredibly helpful, and this was their fourth inauguration.

“We got to see Bush leave on the helicopter at the 2009 inauguration, which was an incredible experience,” said Stella Blair, one of the women I sat next to.

One woman, Nell Pizzo, was here for her first inauguration. She was so excited and began to cry when President Obama came out for his swearing-in and inaugural address.
“I didn’t have enough sense to put this on my bucket list, but this is so amazing,” said Pizzo.

As we passed the time, I began to talk to more and more people in my section. Everyone there knew I was a journalism major and was asking questions about what I wanted to do and what this experience was like, but only after I asked them questions first. As P.S. 22 from Staten Island began singing around 9:30, I needed to stretch my legs.

That’s when I spotted David Muir, an ABC correspondent who fills in for Diane Sawyer on “World News.” I asked him for a picture, and he more than kindly obliged. Before I could make my way over, my section was cheering me on to go speak to CBS correspondent Byron Pitts. When I told him I went to SMU he replied, “Go Mustangs.” I think that’s the second or third time I’ve heard that this trip. Byron was so down to earth and told me to keep going with my career and asked me even more questions about what field I wanted to get into and what I wanted to do.

I must admit I was a little star-struck as I walked back to my cheering section. It was just in time, as finally Congress was beginning to fill their seats. The crowd was relatively quiet, little cheers and boos here and there for various people. They really picked up once John Kerry, Jimmy Carter and Hillary Clinton took their seats.

The crowd went wild when Michelle Obama walked through, aahing at her new bangs and chic outfit.

It then occurred to me that this whole event could be potentially dangerous. I became more aware of the snipers all around me and realized that people were really not happy with Obama being re-elected. What if they decided to “do something about it”? Thankfully nothing remotely close to bad happened. The only slightly annoying part that lasted the entire event was members of the Westboro Baptist Church protesting from a tree. They spent about an hour chanting “Stop Obama, Stop abortion.” Sure.

The crowd was excited when Vice President Biden made his entrance. But to nobody’s surprise, the crowd really went wild when President Obama made his appearance. The crowd began shouting “Obama” as he took his seat.

Whatever your political opinion or party, it was an incredible moment to hear 800,000 people uniting together to celebrate this event.

In my opinion, President Obama’s speech was very well done. Its central theme was unity and all citizens being created equal. He touched largely on the economy, the War in Afghanistan (which is coming to an end), education, climate change and immigration. He was the first president to support gay marriage in an inaugural address, and most importantly, he did not touch on gun control.

While he mentioned the children of Newtown and cherishing our children, he did not delve into a position on gun control. Very smart move on his part. As historian Michael Beschloss said yesterday, pushing too much on gun control too soon could impact Obama’s work on many other issues.

He took a jab or two at the Republican Party, saying name-calling isn’t reasoned debate, but overall he called for unity between the parties to accomplish what this country needs to. This was extremely important, as every person I talked to said that was what they were looking forward to the most: The President and Congress working together.

The experience was an emotional one. Everyone around me was moved to tears and was excited by the optimistic tone of President Obama’s speech.

There was not too much mention of MLK Jr. although today is MLK Jr. Day. President Obama referenced him in his inaugural address, and he was mentioned in the invocation by Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

The most interesting fact is that President Obama was sworn in on two Bibles: the Bible used for Abraham’s Lincoln inauguration and a Bible belonging to MLK Jr.

The ceremony began its conclusion with a poem by Richard Blanco, titled “One Today.” Then Kelly Clarkson came out and sang “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”; and Beyonce finished off with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. It was concluded with the benediction by Dr. Luis Leon.

Leaving was the biggest challenge of all. It took me about an hour to get out, but as cliche as it may sound, it didn’t feel that long. I was too busy taking this experience in.

My dad said something that really resonated with me. There have only been 57 inaugurations throughout the entire history of the United States. The fact that I was able to attend one is an experience I will never forget.

Despite the little sleep and lingering cold, this has been an incredible experience. President Obama said in his address that George Washington said what is most important about the United States is not the election of our first president, but the second president and the peaceful transition of power among parties.

While there was no transition of power today, and despite all the conflict and constant disagreements between parties, we have upheld this hope of George Washington.

And that makes this experience worth the no sleep and no voice.

Also follow student journalists on Twitter: #SMUinDC

From left: Katelyn, Kelsey, Summer, Macey and Julie outside the Capitol (credit: The Daily Campus)

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