Tuesday, January 22, 2013

TWC and the Inauguration

The last ten days did not disappoint. Forget Disney World, The Washington Center is an organization where dreams come true. In the last year I have been on two adventures with this organization and it has moved me and inspired my learning and my life. A dream came true when I was able to see with my own two eyes the president of the United States swear into office and give his speech. I remember where I was and what I was thinking four years ago for President Obama’s first inauguration. I was sitting in the cafeteria watching one of the televisions. This was before I ever wanted to go into politics, but I remember thinking that I wanted to be there to witness such an enormous occasion. I never imagined that I would be there four years later. The Inauguration is something I will always cherish. Waking up at three in the morning, being with friends, and witnessing history are just some of the aspects of the day.  

            President Obama’s speech was the hands down highlight of the inauguration. I thought his speech was very telling of not only where he wants to take the country in the future but where we have been in the past. He addressed a lot of topics that I agreed with. He mentioned immigration, gay rights, Middle East Wars, Equality for Women, Social Security, the national deficit, and political polarization. I particularly liked the portion where he said that “But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future”. This obviously represents the president’s interest into addressing Social Security and making sure that young Americans will have a retirement fund. This certainly has been a topic of debate that has pinned young against old on the issue and I have very interested in what President Obama will do to address the issues regarding Social Security.  

Now that the ten day Washington Center Program is over I am blue because it was a wonderful experience. I loved the seminar portion and learning from those who have hands on experience in their fields within the realm of politics. I made it a goal to make it to the microphone as many times as I could and I think that made a difference in not only representing my school but making the speakers notice me. Rodell Mollineau, president of American Bridge 21st Century which is a super PAC emailed me after he spoke at our program. I also felt the site visits were very useful in not only learning but in networking. If I had a choice to repeat the last ten days I would do it in a heartbeat. I was with a great group of friends from Juniata that made the Inauguration day a little less cold because we were all together taking in the site.

Alexis Waksmunski



Post Inaugural Reflection

            I will have to say that after the phenomenal week of academic seminars and interesting site visits, attending the inauguration was really not that grand of a finale. I have never been packed so tightly with so many people in my whole life. It was overall not a very enjoyable experience. It was cool to see history in the making during the actual ceremony. Nevertheless, it was not worth the four hours of walking, security checkpoints, and waiting in the masses.
            There was, however, some entertainment during our four-hour wait standing on the west lawn of the Capitol. An abortion protester had climbed a tree with a sign and was yelling things like “Obama is a baby killer.” When the police attempted to reach him with a ladder, he proceeded to climb further up the tree out of their reach. He remained there for the entire ceremony. I thought it was humorous for most of his first few hours he was in the tree. However, I changed my mind when he continued to yell during the invocation. This is where I think the man crossed over the line of his right to a “peaceful” protest.
            The other festivities of the inauguration ceremony were enjoyable as well. It was cool to hear Lamar Alexander, a senator from my home state, speak. I also enjoyed the various musical performances, even if they were lip-synced. They were all very moving songs that leave a lump in your throat every time. The President’s speech was also intriguing. He used some of his classic rhetoric that I expected to hear, but some of it I did not see coming. For instance, he asserted a very strong liberal agenda focused on the general welfare of this nation. Although we have serious economic problems in this nation and many pressing foreign issues, the President decided to steer away from these subjects. It seems to me that President Obama is more concerned with being remembered as a crusader fighting for social justice over a president who fixed the economy. 

Leaving Washington

            Re-elected President Barak H. Obama kept his second inaugural speech short and simple. He talked about gay marriage, immigration, climate change and renewable energy. He emphasized the roles America, as a nation, (“We, the people”) had in the future in leading the way in new ventures for other nations to follow. However, the issues he chose not to state seems more telling than the ones he deemed important enough to mention.

            In his second term the President faces formidable opposition on the policies he focused on in his first term. The fiscal cliff and the national debt, economic crisis and health care reform and his policies to them made him more enemies than friends. In addition, new issues have demanded speedy responses. President Obama did mention the Connecticut shooting, but he did not refer to gun legislations. It seems to me that in trying to ruffle as few feathers as possible, he succeeded in the opposite.

            My roommates and I agreed that the president’s speech was not the best and left much unsaid. A few hours later, however, I heard a very different take. In Allegheny County’s Democratic Inaugural Ball the presiding congressman made it sound like it was one of the greatest speeches ever. It almost made me wonder if we had heard the same speech or not, and how this difference in perception came to be.

            But at the same time, these differences in opinion are what Washington politics runs on. Each politician battles one another with words over their differing beliefs (whether their motives are honest or not). And opinions, like most things, change over time. I myself leave Washington DC with a mountain load of information and experience on politics. I still have to digest them, but I feel my own opinions will shift as I go through them. Who knows, in a few weeks I might score the inaugural speech better.

            Personal views aside, it was marvelous being a part of the crowd on Monday. Getting up at 3am and standing for ten hours straight is what I would usually call crazy, but this was the one time to go mad. Once again, it was a privilege being able to witness up close history in the making.

- Mizuho Yamato


What a way to end a truly fantastic week. One of my aims before coming to the US was to hear Obama speak in person. On Monday I achieved that. To be a part of the crowd was such an experience, hundreds of thousands of people all in one place, yet when the President you could hear a pin drop. It seems to me that politics aside, the guy can deliver a speech, if not an oath, in such a way that you are almost completely forced to focus your attention upon his words. And his words did indeed set out a clear message for his second term, much of which will be arousing a certain level of trepidation from members of the opposite political party.

This speech, though it contained many non-partisan and fairly conventional rhetoric devices used in many speeches of a similar nature, could also be said to have contained much that was pretty clearly aimed at the more Conservative school of thought that exists within American politics. The idea that ‘We the People’, a phrase that he continually evoked, should be coming together to solve problems, especially in the explicitly mentioned issue of gun control, was clearly aimed at the stubborn Republican controlled House. Watching the Congressional luncheon that takes place shortly after the ceremony, John Boehner looked like he’d rather be somewhere else.

But for all the political dimensions to the occasion, it was great to have been a small part of this great event. As a member of the audience, it really felt like I was witnessing history unfold in front of my eyes. The crowd, atmosphere and speech for me made this the highlight of the week. And after being present at this event, I am really optimistic about the next four years. Obama will now go about ensuring his legacy. I hope one day, many years from now, to visit Washington, look upon the Obama monument, and be proud to say that I saw him speak that day.

-   Michael Stell   

Learn to Think Like a Man

            On Monday January 21st I had the pleasure of sitting next to Dottie Miller, President of Merck Independent Union within the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) at the Allegheny County Democratic Committee Inaugural Gala Ball. We talked about a number of things ranging from pro-life, teachers’ unions, who will be the next governor of PA, and so on. It was really interesting to me her views and experiences in politics. At one point she said a truly memorable phrase that I will never forget.

“You need to learn to think like a man.” When I asked her what she meant she explained that in the real world, but especially in politics you have to work twice as hard to gain the same respect a man receives. It is a man’s world and becoming a part of it requires adapting to the way men think. “You have to out think, out smart, and out educate them.” She said that if you are in a conversation with a group of men and you, a woman say something but then another man joins the conversation and says the exact same thing you just did they will call him brilliant.

This was fascinating to me but at the same time alarming. Am I naive to think that because women have made great strides in the professional world they are listened to? Is it really like she says? I then analyzed her words. Covert operations! Learn about how men think and one learns how to live and work within their world. It is learning their secrets and using it against them to get ahead.

This made me think about our country’s national leaders male and female. Our nation just re-elected the first African American president. Did he have to think covertly about getting ahead in life like Dottie said, or is it because he is a man he did not have as much trouble as say Hilary Clinton in gaining prestige in the professional world. Hilary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi have taken a lot of heat in politics. Does this have to do with their gender or their party? Either way I am sure they know “how to think like a man” because politics is a man’s world, so I have heard. I think that networking, negotiating, and compromise is a part of politics and those that learn to think like those around them while still staying true to themselves can go far. Now that I am starting into this world of politics I guess I have to do the same.               

Alexis Waksmunski

What We Should Do

To be frank, my impression of the inauguration was chilly and exhausting due to the standing for a long time among the big crowd. However, it was great to take part in a historical moment and experience it myself.

I was happy that President Obama mentioned about climate change. Even though the U.S. has so many domestic problems, as the world leader, he stood up and stated that it is inevitable to cooperate with the international community. The United States has been criticized for not being cooperative in solving the environmental problems. However, since the Americans are the largest energy consumers, there should be more responsibility on our shoulders than the rest of the world. If President Obama actually takes the initiative to solve climate change, it will lead to an improvement for all humanity and the nature.

In addition, the fact that Obama mentioned equal rights such as gay rights and rights of immigrants made me happy because I am a strong supporter of equal rights for everyone. Nevertheless, it will be very tough to accomplish equal rights. The President’s speech had many big words such as “equality,” “democracy,” “liberty,” “happiness,” and so on. There are many domestic and international problems that U.S. is facing at this time and the speech was very inspirational but I really hope that the President is not simply saying what the public wants to hear but has specific plans to deal with them. Even though the presidential inauguration is a ceremonious day when all the citizens gather despite much political differences, for the President and the American public, the presidential inauguration is the day when they start moving forward as one.

Unfortunately, I found myself not as excited as I was four years ago because after learning and digging more about politics and the world, I know that it is hard to change the real world. Most Americans are expecting more from President Obama as this is his 2nd term but we cannot expect immediate changes to take place. Changes will slowly but surely occur that will act as stepping stones to the long journey that America has along its path.

The world is not only going to revolve around politics, but also by economics, people, and et cetera. We easily complain about politics and I, too, cannot deny that I wasn’t. However, what we need to do now is not quarrel about who to blame or rely on. We need to think for what we, ourselves, can do to bring changes.

The Grand Finale

            The Washington Center’s Presidential Inauguration Seminar was a remarkable experience that taught me so much about politics and myself. While I am a biology/chemistry major, I greatly enjoyed listening to the various speakers and learning about topics that I knew very little about coming into the seminar. I have a much better understanding of politics because of this program and the various site visits. While the entire week was amazing, the highlight of the experience was the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony.

            The inauguration of President Barack Obama will be an experience that I will never forget. Everything I had done for the past week led up to that amazing event. While it was a long, cold day, I can say that I was a part of history and that every aspect of the day was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. For instance, because I was there so early, I was able to watch the sun rise up behind the Capitol Building. Although I had been to the Capitol Building a few days earlier, it looked completely different in the hours leading up to the inauguration. The entire section I was standing in was fueled with excitement, and time moved so quickly once the festivities began. Before long, it was time for the President’s Inaugural Address, and it was superb. He was eloquent and covered a wide range of topics. I believe it will be a speech that “the people” will never forget.

            As my Washington Center experience draws to a close, I realize how welcome I felt by the end of the trip. On the day of the inauguration, I was a part of a crowd that was there to see the swearing-in of President Barack Obama and witness history. I am still amazed at the fact that I was there and could see the President of the United States in person. It was a momentous occasion that needed time to fully absorb. Even the President had to pause for a moment as he was leaving the ceremony to turn around and face the crowd, his crowd, for the last time. It was the perfect grand finale to a spectacular experience that no one will ever forget.
-Andrea Waksmunski