INA – A group of Rend Lake College students will fly out early tomorrow morning on their way to a first-hand lesson in U.S. history - the swearing in of this country’s first black president, Barack Obama. Interim Liberal Arts chair Henry “Buster” Leeck and Dean of Student Services Lisa Price, coordinators for the trip, explain how planning started more than two years ago as the unprecedented presidential race unfolded into a record voter turnout and an upcoming inauguration expected to set a new attendance high.
“When Buster and I talked about doing this trip we were excited with whatever way the election went,” Price said. “As the election proceeded we became more and more excited in knowing that either way the vote went - republican or democrat - we would be there for a historic inauguration. We would see the first black president take the oath or the first female vice president enter the White House.”
Students attending are Andrew Burgin and Anthony Graham of Mt. Vernon, Abigail Blair of Salem, Derrick James of Belle Rive, Victoria Price of Ewing and John Shukites of Christopher. Joining them, along with Leeck and Price, are RLC graduate Jade Helm of Mt. Vernon and RLC Associate Professor of English Rebecca Biggs.
“It’s a historical time for our country and me personally,” James said. “It’s going to be a part of our lives and I am glad to be a part of it.”
“I’m really excited,” Biggs said. “I got my tickets before the election, so I didn’t know who would be inaugurated, but I knew either way it was going to be historical. I’m glad it’s Obama. I’m very glad it’s Obama and I am happy I can come back and share the experience with my students.”
It will be especially memorable for Price since her daughter, Victoria, will be by her side. She is a student at RLC and works part-time for the Allied Health Division there.
“My daughter is very interested in criminal justice, and government at the local, state and national levels. Aside from everything one would expect to see, I think it will be great for her to watch U.S. Secret Service agents in action - how they protect the president and manage the crowd. It is predicted that one to four million will be in attendance.”
Leeck, who was a full-time history instructor at RLC before his promotion to head of Liberal Arts, also expects a historic turnout and offered his opinion of how public perception of this inauguration stacks up to those of past presidents.
“When I look back, I see Kennedy being the last president to inspire such a public movement. Now, the American masses are really energized and interested in this president and what he is going to do.”
Planning for the trip started as Leeck and his students were returning from a New York class trip two years ago. At that time, there were rumblings of Hillary Clinton entering the race, followed by Obama.
“The candidates started lining up and, at that point, I decided something needed to be put together for these students to go,” he said. “It is an excellent opportunity for a lot of us.”
And what a deal it is for students in this group who qualified for a scholarship from the Rend Lake College Foundation. Once again, the Foundation Board and Chief Executive Officer Pat Kern have stepped forward with an incentive for full-time students who meet a minimum grade point average standard and are looking to expand their college experience. The RLCF has offered similar scholarships for every student trip at RLC, whether it was to New York, Jamaica or the western U.S., and now to the nation’s capitol. Those students who qualified received a $500 scholarship, which covers half of their cost to go on this trip.
Leeck pointed out that, although most in the group liked Obama, they had to commit to going and pay for the trip 75 days before departure. Ironically, it was Nov. 3 – the eve of election day – so they did not know for sure who they would see being sworn in on Tuesday.
For some, the trip itself is monumental, Price pointed out.
“With any trip or cultural event we do with students, particularly with students who have little or no travel experience, they are going to see and do things they have never encountered. It’s an adventure for them and to be there, watching them take everything in, that is always a highlight for me.”
“Some in this group have never flown before,” Leeck said. “So, to take a major trip such as this one and experience all the highlights along the way, it is a great exercise in thinking outside the box and will prove to be very culturally-enriching.”
While staying tonight in St. Louis, Price has prepared a visit to “The Hill” where they will feast on authentic Italian cuisine. The team flies out at 6 a.m. Sunday morning and will return Wednesday. Once they are there, it’s all up to the travel company Leeck made arrangements with. They, more specifically Tour Guide Bob, will be handling all of the logistical arrangements. Based in the area, the company will be a wonderful tool in getting the group where they need to be for the best experience.
While in Washington D.C. they will, of course, witness the Presidential Oaths of Office and Presidential Address. They will also attend the parade, go to the Smithsonian Institution and spend some time at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, among other attractions.
“You can’t get this kind of experience for a thousand dollars,” Leeck said. “It just doesn’t happen. So, it’s a really good chance for these students. The experience is going to be phenomenal.”