Monday, January 28, 2013

Washington, D.C.: A call to service

More than 400 college students from across the country, including 10 Bloomsburg University students, descended on the nation’s capital in January for The Washington Center’s Inauguration Seminar — a two-week program where students and faculty participate in a series of discussions, site visits and guest lectures culminating with public inauguration events and President Obama's swearing-in ceremony. 

Throughout the past week students heard inauguration staff, political leaders and White House news correspondents share personal stories of presidential campaigns, elections and national policy. Historians and renowned professors also hosted interactive discussions on political appointments, congressional confirmations and policy agendas. 

Here, Bloomsburg participant Mathew Sullivan talks about the National Day of Service on Jan. 19.

The theme of the day was certainly “hidden opportunities.” Many students from The Washington Center were able to either meet or see some famous people today who were in town gearing up for the inauguration! It is extremely exciting having the opportunity to be in the capital during this event, you can feel the excitement mounting in the city, awaiting the ceremonies which will take place on Monday. The opportunities today weren’t just hidden, but publicized as well. Today is the National Day of Service. It is a day dedicated by President Obama to be a day that the nation can band together to commit service to one’s community. With all the preparation for the inauguration, as well as the day of service festivities going on, Washington is quite a fun place to be.

The Capitol prepared for President Obama's inauguration.
The day began with a trip to the Newseum, a relatively new institution dedicated to the history and appreciation of the evolution of not only American, but foreign news as well. This museum includes real broadcasting rooms, a piece of the Berlin Wall, and some other modern and historic pieces. In some ways, it is like being in a museum just waking to the Newseum. All the buildings surrounding the mall are either museums or historic/important in their own respect. Walking through judiciary square and appreciating the architecture, and memorial to law enforcement officers which have died in the line of duty was really amazing. The grandeur of the courthouses is an outward presentation of their symbolic nature. One could spend hours just wandering the city streets and marvelling at this city. 

A trip to the botanical gardens located to the south of The Capitol is a break from the expected sites and views of Washington. Being in a comparatively small building, the glass roof and architecture are quite attractive amongst the slew of marble-white buildings that surround the mall. Inside, Washington has arranged an amazing collection of plants from all around the world. From desert plants, Hawaiian plants, and even a section on medicinal plants, this diverse array of plant-life is quite impressive. The building is like a greenhouse of course, but it is still quite astonishing how the botanists are able to preserve these plants so perfectly, especially when it is winter outside the walls of this giant plant observatory. This place certainly played a calming role, in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the preparations for the Inauguration as well as the National Day of Service activities that were happening throughout the city. 

Registering for the National Day of Service was as easy as filling out a form on your phone and receiving an email. Once you received the email, all you had to do was show that to the workers at the tent and you were admitted. Inside, there were thousands upon thousands of people. It was truly amazing that this many people wanted to show up to see how they could help in one way or another. There was a speech by Lieutenant Colonel Tammy Colonel of the Illinois National Guard, who was injured in the Middle East, losing both her legs. She now serves as the first asian-american congress woman from Illinois. Her words were truly inspiring, she gave thanks to Martin Luther King Jr, because if it wasn’t for his fight during the civil rights movement, she herself would not be able to serve in the House of Representatives given her race. She also continues to serve as a Lieutenant Colonel despite her injuries, her story and continued motivation show her love for her country, it was amazing to see someone with that much dedication. 

Throughout the events at the National Day of Service, there were different stations depending on what time of service you might be interested in. There was a station for Economic Development, Health, Faith, Veterans, Environment, etc. etc. It was amazing to see how motivated people were about all these issues, not only the people attending the event, but the people working the stands as well. They were extremely eager to share their organizations story and get people involved to help out. One of the largest stands was for the American Legion, where people from all across the country were writing letters to our veterans. A woman from Telemundo was interviewing people in Spanish, I was one of the people she interviewed. This showed the great amount of participation from hispanic-americans as well, and how an event like this is important to report for people of different countries as well. 

A visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum came next. This museum offered an amazing collection of artifacts displaying human progression throughout history in the subject of air and space travel. An entire section of the museum is dedicated to the Wright Brothers. This is rightfully so, since it was with the innovation of these brothers that a whole new way of travel was born. Other interesting parts of the museum included the Lockheed Martin Imax Theatre, and the amazing collection of airplanes they had hanging from the ceiling. This museum was a testament to human ingenuity. The day’s events were truly full of “hidden opportunities”, many students were able to see Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. Many other students were able to participate in one way or another at the Day of National Service. Americorp did an amazing job of pulling the day’s events on altogether.