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Students Witness History, Report Back

Washington Journalism Center covers inauguration from all angles

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Click on the slide show above to see images of students at work in BU’s Washington, D.C., Journalism Center.

Ten days into their first semester as reporters for BU’s Washington, D.C., Journalism Program, students got the reporting opportunity of a lifetime: covering President Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 20.

The program, founded in 2000 by Washington Center director Linda Killian (CAS’80, COM’80), a former editor at National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, offers graduate and undergraduate students a semester-long opportunity to work in the bureaus of national news organizations such as ABC, NBC, the Boston Globe, and NPR, as well as New England news outlets like the Cape Cod Times, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, and Connecticut Public Radio.

Last week, the students headed out early on inauguration day to capture the nation’s capital at this moment in history. They reflected on the experience for BU Today.

Jillian Jorgensen (COM’09)
I had a local angle: as a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, I just needed to focus on New Hampshire folks in Washington for the big day. All I had to do was catch up with a handful of Granite Staters in a mob of well over a million. Easy as pie, right? Not quite, but with the help of a double-sided sign that asked, “Are you from New Hampshire?” and my own loud voice, I managed to find a few.

Despite the cold, the stress of finding New Hampshire residents to interview, and the long, long walk home through massive crowds, it was worth it to witness such a historic moment surrounded by hundreds of thousands of excited people. As a journalism and political science student, it was incredible to see so many people motivated by the political process; as a human being, it was incredible to see so many people treat each other with respect and patience in a crowd that could have easily become unruly.

Every moment — from the traditional playing of “Hail to the Chief” following the swearing-in to the chant “Nah nah nah nah, good-bye!” that rose from the crowd, directed at the outgoing president — will stay with me for a lifetime. (Not to mention the man who walked across a row of Porta-Potties to beat the crowd!)

Katie Koch (CAS’09, COM’09)
I left for the Capitol at 6 a.m. to make it to the silver ticket area, just behind the reflecting pool on the National Mall. Crowd control was virtually nonexistent — there were no signs or blockades to direct the flow of traffic, and the very few police officers must have forgotten their megaphones, making their instructions all but worthless. Naturally, huge human traffic jams formed everywhere, but people took the morning in stride. The camaraderie of the crowd was unbelievable. People occasionally started up cheers of “Obama!” When the wait became ridiculous, they switched to “Let us in!” Jammed into a crowd of what seemed like thousands, I started chatting with the woman whose elbow was three inches into my ribcage. It turns out she was Sasha Obama’s new science teacher at Sidwell Friends. She wouldn’t give me anything too juicy, but she did assure me that “Sasha seems to be adjusting just fine.” I felt better knowing my favorite Obama was doing all right.

Aoife Connors, Dublin City University
What a day! Although I’m not a native American, I felt so proud of newly elected President Barack Obama and his family.

The cold was unbearable, the walking was painful, the crowds and crushing were frightening — but none of this mattered once Obama stepped onto the platform. He spoke with such confidence, belief, and optimism for the future that one had to feel this was going to be a time of change.

I trusted Obama, believing that he would deliver positive change. I admired his family for their unity, their teamwork, and their values.

Never in my life have I seen so many politically engaged people gathered in one city so peacefully, civilized and in common agreement that this was a great day, this was a special day, but most importantly, this was a new day and a new era for Americans.

Sarah Gantz (COM’09)
I watched and listened to the ceremony from a spot in front of the Capitol, where I was surrounded by people crying, hugging, holding cameras over their heads to snap photos, and lifting children onto their shoulders to get a better view. “Overwhelming” is the only word to describe the feeling: a crowd of thousands of people who are so euphorically happy that they are unfazed by the discomforts of cold and tight spaces. As a journalist, I felt incredibly unqualified to summarize (in 800 words or less) the emotion they experienced at this event they had waited for so long.

Tait Militana (COM’09)
I’m not sure I have ever seen a time when complete strangers were as friendly, welcoming, and gracious towards each other as they were during the inauguration weekend. It was like the holidays. Everybody was so excited. During the swearing-in ceremony, I stood next to an Aussie on one side and a Canadian on the other. It felt like the whole world was watching.

Drew FitzGerald (COM’10)
For weeks leading up to the big day, the building excitement for the nation’s first black president was a boon for people looking to make a few dollars. All across the city, locals with an entrepreneurial spirit sold everything they could tack the 44th president’s name on: Obama T-shirts, Obama binoculars, Obama pretzels, Obama air fresheners – anything that would cost $1 sold for $5 as the National Mall gradually turned into an open-air market. “It’s a good hustle,” one vender in front of Union Station said.

I spent most of the day literally covering the event from the sidelines — not just because of the biting winds, but because there was nowhere to go. Most of the action was at the edges of the crowds, where people paced back and forth looking for easy entrances.

I found a good spot on the Mall near the Smithsonian Castle, where the onlookers had room to walk. Miniature American flags and children sitting on their parents’ shoulders popped up above the sea of heads. Behind me, gulls circled the Washington Monument, where countless more stood. Those old enough to remember compared the event’s magnitude to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Others compared it to Woodstock.

Despite endless lines, dangerously crowded trains, and masses of people from all 50 states pressed cheek by jowl next to total strangers, there were no arrests or reports of violence. I saw faces of eagerness, impatience, and weariness, but not one of anger, even if the hassles some tourists suffered really justified it. The event was a powerful argument that American people are basically decent, and I was glad to be a witness to it.

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