By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
EVERETT — More than two dozen Cascade High School students were motivated more by a sense of witnessing history than by a partisan political stripe when they signed up to attend the Jan. 21 presidential inauguration.
The contingent of 29 students and nine adults didn’t know who was going to be the next president when they committed in September to the cross-country trip to the nation’s capital.
That’s heartening to Melissa Webster, a Cascade American government teacher who took another group of students to President Barack Obama’s first inauguration four years ago.
Webster was on the fence during the summer about whether she would try to organize another inauguration adventure.
“I was debating whether or not to do it again,” Webster said. “It was the kids who came and said, ‘Are you going to do this?’”
Webster couldn’t turn them down.
She said she sees a concerned generation that grew up with the 9/11 attacks, American military involvement in the Middle East and economic hard times. It recognizes a need to take part in the political process to try to carve out a better quality of life, she said.
With the help of the state’s congressional delegation, the students will have tickets to witness Obama’s ceremonial swearing-in at the Capitol followed by his inaugural address.
“It just makes history and democracy real,” Webster said. “It makes it jump off the page.”
Her enthusiasm is shared by her students.
Senior Danielle Nejbauer has been counting down the days since November.
“I can’t wait,” she said.
Fellow senior Amy Boswell was born in England and moved to America when she was 10.
At 17, she considers herself fortunate to have the chance to witness history.
“I think seeing the actual swearing in of a president is cool,” she said. “I’m just looking forward to being there.”
The students also are eager to participate in several side trips, including the Capitol, the Pentagon memorial to the 9/11 victims, and Ford’s Theater where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, as well as the Smithsonian Institution museums and Arlington National Cemetery.
It is at the national cemetery where Nejbauer and three other Cascade students are planning to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. They earned that privilege based on essays they submitted at their school.
“I think I’m going to be absolutely in awe the entire time,” Nejbauer said. “I don’t think it’s something you can understand until you are actually there and can truly feel it.”
Both Boswell and Nejbauer will juggle sightseeing with the reality of returning into the teeth of finals week, including a calculus exam the morning after they return. They plan to study as time allows.
“It’ll be worth it,” Nejbauer said.
For Bill Stengele, a Cascade High School American history teacher, the visit to the national cemetery will be an opportunity to delve into his family history. His great-grandfather, Harry Everest Stengele II, a naval veteran of World War I, is buried there. During a school trip when he was in the eighth grade, Bill Stengele had hoped to find the grave site, but he was told there wasn’t enough time.
He has lived with the disappointment since.
This time, he said, it’s built into the itinerary.
He is happy for the students who get to go.
“This will stay with them for the rest of their lives and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he said.
The students might bump into Everett School Board member Pam LeSesne who planned her own trip to the inauguration. She will accompany her daughter, Samantha LeSesne, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
“She is always saying to me, ‘Mom, why don’t you come out to visit?’ So I am,” she said. “I just felt I would really like to see this. I am at an age to really appreciate it.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org