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.

Until next time, D.C.

An update from An, a junior communication studies and Spanish major: 

Well, it’s been a crazy four days in D.C., with little sleep, food, and rest, but I’m officially convinced that I’m going to move here after graduation. It’s exhilarating to be in a city where there are so many young people who are all extremely intelligent and driven. There is a sort of contagiousness to the fast-paced, career-driven lifestyle in this city.

Even though everyone works really hard and long hours, it seems like at the end of the day, it’s all worth it. And it is. If the price for a fulfilling career in public service and the camaraderie of D.C. professionals is some bitter cold days and long hours, I’m in.

Speaking of bitter cold, it was freezing. Like wear three pairs of pants and five shirts kind of freezing. I have never used foot warmers, but I had to this week. And then I look over at Dr. Schill, and he is wearing a regular old suit with no overcoat. I digress.

There’s something about this city that just draws you in. One SMU alum I spoke to this week compared D.C. “to a really big high school” – there is a strong sense of community because the city is chock full of ambitious young professionals rising up the ranks to successful positions in all fields. As a young aspiring lawyer, I see these people who are just five years older than me in very respected executive positions, and I can’t help but think that will be me in a short five years.

So for all of you driven, passionate folk who seek a meritocracy of young professionals and can handle a few days of bitter cold, come to D.C. and catch the “Potomac Fever.”

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Divided as one

An update from Sarah, a sophomore communication studies and French major:

As I walked through one of the front-most sections of the Capitol lawn trying to find a place to get a good view of the Inaugural ceremonies, I found myself feeling surprised that the sectioned-off portion of grass was not as jam-packed as I expected it would be. I could walk around comfortably without bumping into too many people, and there was even room to sit down and stretch out my legs. And then I turned to look behind me at the National Mall filled beyond the Washington Monument with an estimated 1 million people. Wow.

As the hours passed and more people filed into what was called the orange section, groups of 20-somethings and old married couples alike were pushed closer and closer together in the crowd.

As a general habit, I don’t interact much with strangers. A quick “Hi, how are you?” is usually plenty for me when it comes to elevator chatter or a Starbucks line greeting. When you’re packed tight in what felt like subzero temperatures with 999,999 other people who are all there for the same reason, however, a sense of community inevitably develops. Not even I, typically a bit reserved and intent on keeping to myself, could resist the pull of the excitement of a Presidential Inauguration. I began talking to the people around me, sharing stories and commenting on what was happening. The crowd began to develop a personality of its own, and we even started a wave that went back a few hundred people. We were all there for the same reason, and the sense of camaraderie could not have made that more evident.

With all the conflict and turmoil that have characterized recent politics, many people seem to be losing faith in America. There is more polarization than ever, and “compromise” is the dirtiest word in Washington. But what I saw Monday in our nation’s capital showed me that there is always faith to be had in the American people.

One million people gathered on the Mall, and millions more watched from home as we conducted the ceremony that marks the peaceful transition, or continuation in this case, of power in the nation. Despite their differences, Democrats and Republicans alike gathered to witness a tradition that is inherently American.

Though many may be disappointed or angry with the results of the election, we continue to put aside our differences and accept the choice of the people as we have now for over 200 years. We all have our differences and disagreements, but the coming together of hundreds of thousands of people to celebrate the democratic process gives me a reason to say that I am truly proud to be an American.

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Meeting with Pete Sessions

SMU journalism and communication studies students met with U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who represents the 32nd Congressional District, including SMU.

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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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‘Out here to support Obama’

 An update from Marc, a sophomore communication studies major:

Walking through D.C. on Inauguration Day sounds a little like walking through a tunnel full of auctioneers. On every block merchants line the streets shouting prices as they peddle pictures of the president printed on every possible piece of merchandise. One vendor in particular caught my attention. After striking up a conversation with her, I learned that selling souvenirs is much more to her than just a way to earn money.

“Momma Obama” from North Carolina

Jocelyn “Momma Obama” Walker has been volunteering with the Obama campaign since 2008. Part of the original grass-roots movement for President Obama in her home state of North Carolina, Momma Obama earned her name going door to door for miles talking to friends, neighbors, and complete strangers about the future President.

“Young folks, old folks, men, women, white, black, Obama is here for everybody, and that’s why I love him so much,” said Walker. “I love seeing all the different people out here to support Obama.”

Despite recently being diagnosed with cystinuria, Momma Obama still managed to volunteer at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last year. She says that working for something she believed in made her forget about the pain. Still devoted to the cause, Momma Obama took a bus from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to sell T-shirts, buttons, posters, and other presidential memorabilia for the inauguration.

The pride and devotion of men and women like Momma Obama are a reminder of how much this inauguration means to so many Americans.

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Preparing for the Inaugural Ball

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

The Inaugural ball may not start for another few hours, but operations are in full swing here. The Inaugural Ball and the Commander-in-Chief balls, both hosted by President Obama, are taking place at the Washington Convention Center.

Special-effect lighting is in place, and musical sound checks are going on.

Artists set to perform tonight at the two balls include Alicia Keys, Usher, John Legend, Katy Perry, Brad Paisley, Stevie Wonder, and more.

The Commander-in-Chief’s Ball is an invitation-only celebration for members of the Armed Forces. Tickets were free for those attending.

The Inaugural Ball, held downstairs from the Commander-in-Chief Ball, is the only official ball this inaugural year that allows a select number of members of the public.

I will be covering the Inaugural Ball from the press pool.

Also follow student journalists on Twitter: #SMUinDC

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Reactions to the Inauguration

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

Americans flooded the streets of D.C. this morning, showing loyal support for the nation’s leader in whatever ways they could; even if it meant waiting in freezing temperatures for several hours on the grass in front of the Capitol.

Katelyn at the Inauguration (credit: The Daily Campus)

After both Biden and Obama were publicly sworn in a little before noon, the President began his second term with an address calling the country’s people to build a future for equality and prosperity. Specifically, he mentioned matters of climate change, the economy, education, gay rights, and immigration, among others.

Amy Hernandez, a Maryland native, said that the being surrounded by thousands of people all waving the same American flag created an especially strong sense of unity.

“Having the people around, it’s an awesome feeling,” Hernandez continued.

Obama’s notes on gay rights held special meaning for Hernandez herself.

“Being a lesbian, it’s awesome to be in the city and be a part of this.”

Pamela Waylock, who traveled from Pittsburgh for her first Inauguration, believes “everybody can relate to the struggles” for equality and opportunity that Obama emphasized in his address.

“He helped give us that boost of confidence that he’s going to do what he said he was going to do in his campaign.”

Many others in the crowd echoed the same sentiments, including Kristen Hayes, who attended the previous Inauguration as well. Despite attendance overall being lower, Hayes insisted that “it’s the same energy” that could be felt during Obama’s optimistic speech on unity.

“It was very inspirational and I think it speaks to his plans for next four years,” Hayes said.

The President’s address and the audience reactions were ones of prudent optimism and awareness of the work that needs to be done to continue moving forward.

Obama said, “We are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together.”

Also follow student journalists on Twitter: #SMUinDC

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Best way to spend $5 at the Inauguration

An update from James, a junior communication studies major and psychology and pre-law minor:

“One dollar! One dollar for the best present for your kid. Obama bookmarks here, one dollar!”

The Inauguration brought an influx of people and a variety of ages, ethnicities and cultures to the D.C. area. With this large surge of tourists and out-of-towners, the locals took full advantage of these rookies, selling all sorts of souvenirs on the streets as people walked to Monday’s Inaugural ceremony.  If you could write Obama on it, they could make it.

Obviously, I wanted every item these vendors were selling, but I only had $5. Now here were my options: T-shirts, coffee mugs, magnets, hats, pants, socks, scarves, buttons and more. They ranged from classy T-shirts and posters to bookmarks and Obama condoms. Each was $5 dollars or less.

After watching the swearing-in ceremony, Dr. Rita Kirk, Hilltop on the Hill program director, gave us some free time to walk around and experience the 1,000 artists’ projects that we had been tweeting and writing about during the event. They were part of the A Thousand Artists group who were here from across the country to promote public art. They displayed their wares on the mall after the Inauguration.

After taking a look at a few pieces of art, I had to find the ultimate $5 gift at this event. While walking the three-mile semicircle back to our hotel, I stopped and glanced at every street vendor’s inventory. T-shirts, Nah. Posters, Nah. Obama condoms, warmer. Then that’s when I saw it out of the corner of my eye:  the sparking pink and white gem-bedazzled Obama hat. I nearly cried laughing. It was the perfect gift to remember this event because it had both the serious nature of Obama’s inauguration, yet a funny kick to it due to its bedazzlement.

Although this is not a gift I will keep for myself, I know it is going to look perfect on top of my sister’s head. Although this was a serious and incredible event to attend, it’s the little things that make you laugh, and that you will truly remember.

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A tribute to our military veterans

An update from Blake, a finance and economics major and communication studies minor.

Lynyrd Skynyrd honored U.S. military veterans at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Sunday evening, just blocks from our nation’s Capitol building. With chart-topping Southern rock classics like “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “Freebird,” the event drew an eager crowd of decorated men and women of all ages and ranks.

In observing the interactions between veterans, it became evident that our brave military operates as one large, respectful family. At a beautiful reception in the theatre’s lobby, various branches shared stories over cocktails and appetizers, lifting spirits among veterans joining in celebration of the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

Made possible by a donor, four SMU students received tickets because of our own military veteran, Sergeant Santiago Martinez of the United States Marine Corps, a communication studies major at SMU.

The awards ceremony leading up to Skynyrd’s live music performance was one of emotional recognition for the brave men and women who have sacrificed a substantial portion of their lives to defending our civil liberties here at home. With CNN News covering the action, family members of fallen heroes received awards. A gentleman named PJ accepted an award on behalf of his brother Jason for the helicopter rescue by Navy Seal Team 6 on August 6, 2011, stating “We are free because of our brave.”

Another group of veterans – unsettled by the loss of detailed history in battle – found the inspiration to create a documentary called “The Hornet’s Nest” with the help of ABC News. The group is determined to capture real-time stories of warfront battles so that the facts of history are solidified. The documentaries will ensure no one is ever left behind in the U.S. Marines. The documentary maker said the battle is not just fought on the battlefield, but also back at home as Marines struggle with life after their tours.

Twenty-seven Tuskegee Airmen from WWII were honored for their courage and bravery in the face of discrimination and race wars.

Shortly following the awards and recognition, Lynyrd Skynyrd took the stage for a passionate and appreciative concert by a patriotic band. Looking to give back to military veterans, the band refused to accept commission for the performance.

Following their service on land, in the air, or at sea, veterans carry on a legacy by commemorating their fellow fallen soldiers in their own unique ways.

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An event-filled second day in D.C.

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

Today has been a crazy day! I don’t think I have stopped since 8 am this morning. This morning we went to the National Cathedral to hear famed political historian Michael Beschloss speak about President Obama’s upcoming second term.

Next Kelsey, Katelyn and I went to the MLK Jr. Memorial statue to work on our respective stories. We teamed up to interview visitors, and I could not believe the crowd that had gathered at this memorial. Park Ranger Mike Townsend said it was the busiest day to date, only second to the day it opened in October 2011.

Then we had a meet-and-greet with several SMU alumni who are working here in D.C. But the day was not done yet. The crew then headed off with SMU Communication Studies Professor Daniel Schill for the “Mall Crawl.”

We saw many monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial.

After a long day of trekking, I was informed that I was given a seated ticket for the Inauguration! I could not be more thrilled that I will be able to sit tomorrow as I will be leaving my hotel at 5:30 am.

Tomorrow I will provide many more details on my experience at the National Cathedral and the MLK Jr. Memorial. But for now, I need to get some sleep.

Also follow student journalists on Twitter: #SMUinDC

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