#WHSocial: French Arrival Ceremony for Pres. Hollande

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Bienvenue President Hollande! Vive les Etats-Unis! Vive la France!

I’m not one to ever win things.  There was that one time I won a cake on a cake walk at a fair at my first elementary school, but I also remember on the day of my 8th birthday party, my father bought two scratch tickets and let me scratch one and my brother scratch the other.  I won $40 and my brother won $10, and it felt like it was the universe’s way of wishing me a very happy birthday.  But that’s the last time I ever remember winning something so random.  The universe seems to have finally come together again for me as last Tuesday, February 11, I was invited to attend an official ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House to welcome the president of the French Republic, Francois Hollande, for his State Visit to the United States.  There were all kinds of historical markers for this event, seeing as how it was just the sixth State Visit to take place during Obama’s administration and the first State Visit of a French president since 1996 (which was before my students were born…woof).  I had been scrolling through my Instagram while curled up the couch on a snow day when I saw a post from the White House account (@whitehouse) to apply for one of their White House Socials (wh.gov/social).  Launched by the White House Office of Digital Strategy, White House Socials aim to involve everyday citizens in major White House events and encourage those who are selected to attend to share their experiences via their social media channels, using hashtags like #WHSocial and #AtTheWH to track their experiences. I must confess I had never heard of this initiative, but clicked on the link thinking “Why not?” All I had to do was provide some basic contact info and a 140-character explanation as to why I wanted to go.  “How to wrap up such a desire in one post?!” I thought.  I settled on an abbreviated explanation of how I felt the experience would be incredible to share with my students, especially my tenth grade European history classes since the event would provide a great connection between what they learn this year and the history of the United States that they will learn in eleventh grade.  I clicked “submit” and seeing that the date of the event was just days away, on a weekday no less, I thought “Watch me get picked.” Imagine my surprise when I received an email the next day saying that I had been selected.

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Official invitation and my hotel key.

Getting the go-ahead from my boss to take a day off, (“Brianna, you HAVE to go” he enthusiastically declared after I expressed my uncertainty over buying plane tickets and being out for a day right before February vacation week), I got home that night and frantically searched for flights and hotels, weighing all sorts of transportation options and searching for flights that would allow me some extra downtime in the nation’s capital.  I settled on an evening flight on Monday into Baltimore and a 8 pm return the following day, allowing me a full afternoon of frolicking in DC. Since I had to leave right from work, the easiest, least expensive line of transportation was to drive to Alewife station on the Red Line, take the T to South Station, and jump on a Silver Line bus to Logan.  Once I landed in Baltimore, I had to take a bus to a MARC commuter rail station just a mile from the airport, ride the train to Union Station in DC, then transfer to the Blue or Orange line to reach a station just two blocks from my hotel.  It sounds complicated, but I managed it all without any complications, and I seemed to catch each connection in 10 minutes or less of arriving at each transfer point, very reminiscent of the “Founding Fathers are watching over us” vibe that my friend Tiffany and I got in our crazy Inauguration weekend adventures just over a year ago.  From the MARC train, I caught a quick glimpse of the Capitol building, at which point a felt a sly smile spread across my face. It would be just minutes until I would arrive in what has become one of my very favorite places.

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Perfect way to unwind.

My hotel was on Pennsylvania Avenue, one of the most reasonably priced options I could find and just half a mile from the White House, called the Hotel Lombardy. It was the most luxurious stay I have ever had, with a quaint shutter over the door to my room, a dainty vanity to sit and do my White House-worthy make-up that next morning, and a king bed to have all to myself. Once I checked in and settled into my room on the tenth floor, I headed down to the Venetian Bar and Lounge on the first floor, and relaxed in a tiny, dimly lit nook away from the bar where a group of Texans sat, and ordered a glass of Riesling, in keeping with the French theme of the next 24 hours. As I sipped on the perfect drink to end about 6 and a half hours of travel, I read up on President Hollande and the plans for his visit to the United States, thinking all the while that this kind of lifestyle suits me quite well.

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One of the many views that made venturing out into the cold totally worth it!

The next morning included an alarm set for 5:15, a pot of coffee as I did my hair and makeup, and a protein bar to last me until whenever I could eat next.  I checked out around quarter of seven and ventured out into what felt much like a typical New England morning…so much for heading south in February to escape the cold. All I knew was that I had to enter the White House Compound at the 15th and E Streets NW entrance. Coming upon the White House, the early winter morning sun rising to the left of it, I found it hard to believe I was really there.  Turning down the street, I had a gorgeous view of the sun rising over the Capitol Building and then soon after, I reached the entry point.  Each attendee had been pre-screened, so I had to have my name checked off and then had to proceed through a metal detector. Once I was cleared, I received an official program and small American and French flags. I followed the directions of the workers and found myself suddenly upon the South Lawn.  I quickly became concerned that my small stature would not allow me to view much, if any, of the ceremony, but noticed that I could see the top of the podium at which both presidents would speak, so I was relieved that I would be able to see them with my own eyes. At that point, there was still a good amount of time before the ceremony started. It was so cold.  Since I would be attending an event after, I had opted for a knee-length dress, tights, and flats – far from optimal attire when it was below 30 degrees.  I had purchased foot warmers, but despite those, I quickly lost feeling in my feet.  In time, a military honor guard marched past, many carrying the state flags of each state, others lining the South Portico with trumpets and banners.  Then, large vans parked next to me (I was on the edge of one section near a driveway looping around the South Lawn and passing by the South Portico), although I could not see who was in them – I’m now pretty sure that they were full of cabinet members and other officials, who would take their places on the other side of the stage and out of my view. Before I knew it, the recorded music playing from the speakers changed to live music, the military men and women were called to attention, and one key announcement was made: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President and Mrs. Obama.”  Since they exited on a ground level, I did not have good view, and just blindly held my camera high above my head and snapped pictures in their general direction, which turned out to be not such a bad strategy:

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President Obama and President Hollande then walked across a raised platform and onto a stage. The crowd of nearly 4000 were mostly silent, and someone near me whispered, “That’s him” and I got an instant chill at gazing at our president with my own eyes.  Both the French and American National Anthems were played, and it really was amazing to be in such a large crowd that recognized the importance of silence at such a moment.

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President Obama and President Hollande

Afterwards, both leaders gave speeches, pausing every few sentences for a translator to speak their words in the other language, which as someone who studied French for 7 years, I appreciated the chance to check my French-speaking ability.  As a history teacher, I greatly enjoyed how each spoke of the long history between our two nations, how we stand for the same values and principles. I had heard somewhere that a State Visit is not merely a meeting between two leaders, it is a meeting between two countries, and that was so apparent.  Sure, Obama and Hollande represent America and France now, but their partnership also represents just one chapter in this historic alliance.

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(L to R): Mrs. Obama, Pres. Hollande, and Pres. Obama on the South Portico porch.

Afterwards, Presidents Obama and Hollande, with Mrs. Obama following them, walked up the steps to the South Portico and paused on the porch to wave to the crowd. Of course, I started taking pictures, but when they turned towards me, I had to stop viewing it all through the screen of my camera, and just appreciate the fact that I was really there on the South Lawn, with two major world leaders looking in my direction and waving at me.

After the ceremony, I went to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with the other 100 White House Social attendees to attend a panel discussion by White House officials. I listened to members of the White House Visitors Office, the National Security Council, the Office of Digital Strategy, and the State Department about the process of planning such events as well as the use of social media in government.

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In the Eisenhower Executive Office Building

I was inspired by how easy it is to be engaged in government now.  The State Department representatives spoke of this concept of “public diplomacy,” which as they explained is the idea that diplomacy doesn’t take place just between diplomats, but between everyday citizens as well.  Social media has created an opportunity for engagement that we’ve really never seen before. You can sign your name on a petition you’re passionate about on “We the People” on the White House website, see snapshots of the preparations for a State Dinner on the White House Instagram account, or follow a U.S. ambassador on Twitter and hear about his or her work in a foreign nation.  In casually visiting any of these sites, you can learn about an issue or event that you may not have heard about on the news.  As a teacher, I view it as a tremendous educational tool, and from what the officials I heard from shared, it seems that an increasing number of government officials in all levels of government are realizing this as well.

I spent the rest of the day fitting in as much as I could in DC.  Seeing as how it was the day before Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, I decided to walk over to the Lincoln Memorial to reflect on one of my favorite presidents. On the way, I walked along the Vietnam Wall. As I slowly walked and gazed upon the names, I came across an older gentleman with younger men who appeared to be his son and grandson. The older man looked for a name, placed his hand on the wall, and became visibly emotional.  I watched from a distance, tears forming in my own eyes as well at this emotional tribute of one veteran to a friend.  I turned away, feeling like I was intruding in some way even though I was nearly 50 feet away from them.

I continued to Lincoln, looked into his stone eyes, read his Second Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address on either wall, and silently reflected on what his presidency accomplished for our nation.  It was quiet and cold, and once a somewhat large tour group arrived, I continued on, choosing to walk by the Korean Memorial, and was struck by the individualism in each figure’s chilling face.  I then made my way along the mall in the direction of the Washington Memorial for next up was a visit to the National Archives, the one stop I had been anxious to make last year but had been unable to.  There, I viewed the  three founding documents of our nation that I have researched over and over and taught to my students: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  Exiting the Archives, I decided to walk towards to the Capitol to take more pictures, and realizing that it was before 4, decided to go inside to see if there were any more tours for the day.

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Apotheosis of Washington in the Capitol Rotunda

I caught the last 10-minute Rotunda tour, but that was plenty for me.  Walking through those halls, I couldn’t help but think of all the legislators who had walked the same halls. I gazed up at the Apotheosis of Washington, looked in the eyes of yet another Lincoln statue, as well as those of several other presidents, and spent time contemplating the various paintings and sculptures on the walls that depict how our nation progressed from an untamed wilderness to the symbol of freedom that it is today.

Finally, it was time for me to make my way back to my hotel to pick up my bag and then travel the Metro and MARC train to get back to Baltimore for my flight home. It was a whirlwind trip (from leaving to returning home, everything took place in just 32 hours), but one that I feel extremely privileged to have made.  DC has captured yet another piece of my heart.  Whether I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, standing on the South Lawn, or entering the Capitol Building, what struck me most about this day was how much history has taken place there, and how America’s identity continues to shift and change as time goes on.

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Part 2: The 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States

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Bedecked in official inaugural buttons, bundled up in layers upon layers of our warmest clothes, and sleep-deprived, Tiffany and I ventured into the brisk Monday Morning that was Inauguration Day.  It was 4:30 am and we were armed with footwarmers, bagels with cream cheese, snack bars, bottles of water, a blanket, and wristlets. We boarded the Metro and as soon as we exited the station around 5 am, we found ourselves in the line of the Gold and Yellow ticket holders.  We knew ahead of time that our tickets guaranteed us a spot on a vast lawn that was right behind the reflecting pool in front of the capitol. Tiff and I stood in line with other excited people for approximately an hour and a half. I will be honest, I was cranky, I wanted coffee, and I was cold. Even though I had thick tights under my thickest jeans, wool knee socks, footwarmers, and boots, my feet and legs were still freezing. Tiff and I wrapped the blanket around our waists as we fumbled with all of our other belongings that a security notice had told us could not be in a bag over 6″x8″x4″, so we just stuffed our pockets. The line would advance at random points without any clear indication as to why. Finally, we were told the gates had been opened. We clutched our tickets and quickly progressed, knowing that the sooner we got to security, the sooner we would be at our spots. We hustled to one entry point where we emptied all our pockets and opened our wristlets and walked through a metal detector. Cleared, we continued our fast pace. We came across one worker who was about to direct us towards the left, but then said nine key words: “Wait, are those yellow? That makes a big difference,” and then directed us towards the right. It turns out that we would have been MUCH farther from the action if we had gone to the gold section. Tiff and I nearly jogged and realized that we would be in the FIRST ROW of our section!!! How the heck did that happen?? (Definitely the Founding Fathers – they clearly had our best interest in mind all weekend).

But it was only 7:10 at this point, still four and half hours away from the start of the ceremony. Little did we know, but we would be on our feet for several hours straight, as there were no chairs and we didn’t feel like sitting on the ground was the best option. We settled in and chatted with the people around us. One woman expressed her disbelief over the fact that this kind of cold was something we were accustomed to, as she was from the U.S. Virgin Islands and had been at the President Obama’s First Inauguration. Two middle-aged women behind us seemed to know everything there was to know about politics in DC and shared their excitement with us; they, too, had been to President Obama’s first Inauguration.

Finally, the musical prelude commenced at 9:30, which made the time go by much more quickly. We caught glimpses of the motorcade progressing up the road to the left of the Capitol, freaking out that the president and every one of our representatives would soon be present. The Oaths of Office were given, and an assertive address left me with hope that we will see the change the country so desperately needs in this next term. I found myself looking at either the Capitol or just at a point in front of me because looking at the jumbo-tron reminded me too much of when I watched the 2009 Inauguration on a projector screen in my college’s campus hub. I wanted to feel like I was there and to fully be present in the fact that I was at an event that has only happened 57 times in our nation’s entire history. It was remarkable.

One of the most moving moments throughout the ceremony was being with so many diverse Americans. When Obama mentioned women, a bunch of us cheered. When he referenced Latinos, a group behind us cheered. This pattern continued and there was something so moving to me in it. We clearly all had very different interests in what the next 4 years would do for us, but we were united on a lawn, cheering for the president that was elected by the will of a free people. It was nothing short of beautiful to stand there as a testament of what democracy can accomplish. 

At the end of the ceremony, Tiff and I had to trek about 15 blocks to where our tickets to the parade were. We hustled over there, eager to just sit down and relax.  Sadly, once we got there, Tiff and I got separated for the parade when she kindly went to get us food. Before our separation, though, we realized that our ticket seats placed us at the very end of the parade route and we expressed our hope that we would still be able to see the President and Vice President.

And we were.

POTUS Point

POTUS Point

I was overcome with excitement when I and those around me looked down just past our seating area and realized that the President had exited his car. Between the screaming and the cheering, I snapped several awesome photos.  The President couldn’t have been more that 50 feet away from me, and seeing him and his wife as well as the Bidens in person felt like a dream.

VPOTUS Point

VPOTUS Point

Did this really just happen?  Was I really present for all of this, an event that I said I would attend 4 years ago when I watched the 56th Inauguration on a screen in Massachusetts? 

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It was real, and it was something I will never forget.

I will never forget the feeling I had among so many of my fellow Americans, from all different walks of life, cheering for hope for the future.

I will never forget spending a long weekend with a friend who is so far away now, reminiscing on moments in the past and sharing dreams of an ambitious future.

I will never forget the conversation I had on the phone with my grandfather when I got home about the whole experience, when he told me in response to my description of the FDR Memorial about the time he saw Eleanor Roosevelt while he was on rest and recovery in the Pacific during World War II.

I will never forget the excitement I had to go back to my students and tell them all about my experience at a moment in history.

And I will never forget how proud I was to be an American that weekend while I was present for an event that shows the power of democracy, in a place that serves as a reminder that the protection of natural rights like those of equality and free speech enable people like Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight for the rights that all people deserve.

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Part 1: The Founding Fathers are Watching Over Us

capitol at nightNote: This post is terribly overdue. But that’s what happens when you take a positively wonderful trip and then come right back to work and midterm grading and lesson planning. So sorry! But here it is, my account of my marvelously nerdy and fun-filled weekend in DC for the 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States.

I’m a nerd. If you haven’t picked up on that by now, then I don’t know what happened.  A few weeks ago, I took a fabulous trip down to Washington DC for the 57th Inauguration of the President of the United States. It’s an event that only happens every 4 years and is the culmination of years of campaigning and serves as a testament to the success of the American political system.  Months before the election, I said to my friend Tiffany, with whom I stayed for the weekend, that I would go to the Inauguration regardless of who was elected. I hadn’t been to our nation’s capital since I was in second grade, a travesty in the mind of this U.S. history lover. So when I looked at the calendar and realized that the Inauguration fell on a long weekend, I figured why not.

I arrived on Friday night.  My brother and his friends drove me to the airport (that experience is worthy of a post in itself, just because those are some crazy boys).  I’m pretty sure I was in traffic to Logan longer than I was actually on the plane to DC. Ah well, such is life. Tiffany and I had contemplated going out once I arrived, but after one beer on the plane, I realized I was in no shape to do so and opted to go to bed (even though, in typical long-time friend fashion, we were up late talking and catching up).  On the way to her house in Maryland, I was like a child in Disney World for the first time. Here we were, driving on the highway, and all of  a sudden, there’s the Capitol Building to my right, illuminated in all its democratic republican glory on a chilly January’s night. I warned Tiff that this would basically be my reaction every time we happened across a symbol of our fine nation, and she laughed and assured me that that would be quite alright.

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We set the alarms early for Saturday and headed into the city for a gloriously clear but chilly morning. We devoted the day to seeing many of the monuments. We started with the Jefferson Memorial, which was relatively quiet as it had just struck 10 am. I have mixed views on Jefferson based on what I consider to be his hypocrisy as the author of the immortal words “all men are created equal” yet was the owner of many slaves, one of whom he impregnated with his illegitimate children. But I digress.  The fact remained that here I was, gazing upon the likeness of one of our nation’s Founders, with his words etched all around us. Regardless of his personal flaws, his words would be taken by generations beyond his own and used to inspire reform and revolution the world over.  On our way out, Tiff and I noticed a small word etched into the wall to our left indicating that there was an exhibit to be viewed. We ventured into a sketchy elevator and found a small exhibit on the life and times of Thomas Jefferson – a lovely surprise for this history teacher.

After viewing the Jefferson exhibit, we continued on along the perimeter of the Tidal Basin and came across the FDR Memorial. It is impressive. Inspirational words of the nation’s only president to be elected to more than two terms provide the context for each stage of the Memorial, which are cleverly devoted to each of his terms that coincided with pivotal moments in twentieth century American history. We then set our sights on the MLK Jr. Memorial.  It is striking. It is so different from the other memorials, but it is inspirational. This memorial was one of the most crowded. Many visitors were visibly emotional as they reflected on the contributions of this champion of civil rights. The next big item on the checklist was the World War II Memorial, which I promised my family I would go to and take lots of pictures of in honor of my grandfather, a veteran of the Pacific theater who had lied about his age and enlisted at the age of 17. I was sure to tell him all about the experience, and  sent him many pictures of his trip, all of which he loved

The rest of Saturday found us walking all over the city, viewing the White House, chatting up Secret Service agents, and meeting our local representative so that we could get the tickets that he had secured for us for the Inauguration ceremony (it helps to have students who have parents in power who also happen to have the same alma mater as you…).  We then headed to dinner at Bullfeathers, a restaurant dedicated to my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt. captiol I relished in the opportunity to dine under a signed photograph of him, while a large portrait watched over us from the adjacent wall. Tiff and I also enjoyed the Bullfeathers Amber, an exclusive brew that went perfectly with our savory buffalo mac n’ cheese and delectable fish and chips.

After dinner, we took a stroll to see a beautiful views of the Capitol building at night and the Supreme Court, and then returned back to Tiff’s house to ready ourselves to go out dancing, which ended up being another casual beer at a sports bar amongst several well-connected 20-somethings in their ball-attire.

Sunday brought us to the Lincoln Memorial. I have no shame in admitting that it was here where I almost cried. Like the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial also has a small exhibit on our awe-inspiring sixteenth president, as well as the actual history of the Memorial itself. In one corner, there is a video on a continuous loop that shows all different demonstrations that have occurred at the feet of the stone statue while a wise-sounding narrator delivers some of Lincoln’s most inspiring quotes.  My eyes welled with tears as I heard Lincoln’s words on equality and justice, paired with images of MLK, Jr. and women protesting for equal rights and young people demanding an end to war.  It’s democracy and progress, it’s what our nation stands for, despite its flaws. I looked at my friend, who had tears in her eyes as well, and we shared an appreciation for one another’s understanding. lincoln

We continued down the mall in the direction of the Capitol and stopped by a small memorial to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence that had been dedicated on America’s bicentennial. When you have a chance, google men like Abraham Clark and Elbridge Gerry.  The vast majority of the signers were average guys at the time, who could have very likely been killed had they been unsuccessful in their attempt to establish a free and independent nation.  I have spent time as an intern researching many of these men and am continuously impressed with how after the Continental Congress, most returned home and carried on with their lives.  Many would be involved with the war effort in some way, but overall, life was normal for them, aside from taking part in such a revolutionary act. We then made our way to the American History Museum, where we expressed shock at the fact that we were actually looking at George Washington’s uniform, marveled upon the beautifully intricate dresses of the First Ladies (what tiny waists some of them have!), and learned about different little-known facts of each of the American presidents.  It was here that another friend from middle school, who had moved back to Taiwan but attended college here in the U.S., joined us. We dined at the Hamilton, named for my favorite Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. Keeping in line with my sampling of historically-themed drinks, I ordered the Hamilton’s Mule, a strong gin and vodka concoction that was quite delicious.

We turned in early that night, as we finally decided that we would have to leave for the Metro at 4:30 the next morning in order to get the seats we wanted in our section, an account of which shall follow.

Arm in Arm

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They walked past me with quiet smiles, arm in arm with coffee cups in their free hands. All on a chilly winter’s morning like any other school day.

One of my duties at school is to man a post outside for intake duty, every other day.  My presence is supposed to deter students coming from the bus drop-off point from taking a short cut to one of the buildings that, if they did take it, would bring them in the path of the numerous cars of parents who drive their little scholars to school.  I see a significant number of my own students at this time, most still with sleep in their eyes and bulging backpacks.  One of the last buses to come brings the arrival of two of my 10th graders, quiet but sweet girls who are very clearly close friends.  They always share sincere smiles as they walk by, sometimes asking questions that pertain to class, but mostly just exchanging an early morning greeting.

Something struck me about them the other day though.  They’re different, somehow a bit more removed from the foolishness that I often observe as a middle/high school teacher and that yet, I can relate to. There’s an element of sincerity between them.  With arms interlocked, it dawned on me how they were just being present with each other. At 7:45 on a Friday morning. Enjoying a moment with a friend.

Seeing them the other day made me think of all the friends with whom I have had moments like that. Late night chats in a residence hall lounge. Night time conversations with a roommate while the lights are off and we’re both in our beds. Walks through Boston with a childhood best friend back from the bar, spilling our hearts out over concerns for the future.  Tear-filled sessions in the Chapel. Impromptu dance parties. There are some whom have fallen out of my life and others of whom I have stayed strongly connected with, but who are now “scattered to the four winds” across the country.  Even though life has changed beyond anyone’s imagination in a matter of years, the friends remain.  How simple yet complicated life was just a few years ago. How much was to be learned and experienced.  How much we would be there for each other and how much remains for us to be at each others’ sides for.  The same kind of scene I observed between these two girls could have been said of me at a similar time:  “They walked  arm-in-arm through the halls of the sprawling high school. Giggling over inside jokes and stressing over what was to come.”  Years later, one could observe, “They walked arm-in-arm across campus, planning coffee dates and shopping trips.” And the words will continue to apply in the future, at weddings and baby showers, graduations and housewarmings, and just ordinary visits with those dearest to us whom life transports to new places near and far.

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Childhood best friends

…they walk arm-in-arm, sharing a moment with a friend.

The First Days

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

These words were first uttered to me by the man I will always refer to as my mentor teacher, the one most responsible for me ever wanting to be a history teacher in the first place.  As I confessed nervousness and disbelief that student teaching was actually beginning, he said these somewhat cliche yet nonetheless true words.  I was embarking on the journey to becoming a licensed history teacher, a goal that I had been pursuing for years.

But this week really felt like it was the beginning of the rest of my life.  As I created syllabi, reviewed class lists, came up with desk arrangements, and bought over a hundred dollars worth of desk supplies at Staples, I realized that life was only just beginning.  For the past few months I had been so focused on how sad I was to graduate and leave a school that had meant so much to me, that had become a home, and had made me into a person I am proud to say that I love.  But in starting teaching this week, I realized that I’m going to be ok.  I will always have my friends from college and memories to last a lifetime.  But I’ll make more friends and more memories that will become just as cherished.  I will start to cultivate young minds and try my hardest to inspire at the very least a respect, if not a love, for the study of history.  I vow to let no student of mine leave my classroom and one day make a college writing tutor think, “How sad! They clearly never learned how to write.”  There is so much to do, and in a way, I am excited that I’m only just beginning.

So yes, these are the first days of the rest of my life.  It’s all about the baby steps – maybe my syllabus could have been clearer, so I’ll make it so next year.  That seating arrangement didn’t work like I thought it would, so I’ll move a few people.  It is all sure to be a learning process, but I’m ready.  Bring it.

Stopped on the Pike for POTUS

Last Monday night, June 25.  I’m driving home from the first meeting of my second grad class, a colloquium on American Slavery. It’s only Monday and I’m already exhausted, thinking of the lesson plan I have to send in in less than 24 hours in order to be done with my first grad class that finished the week before.  As I descend the ramp to get on the Pike, feeling home free and dreaming of my bed, I see the cars in front of me stop, with what looks to be a police officer dressed in a neon vest waving his arms over his head to get us to all stop.  I’m only about 10 cars back from the end of the ramp, thinking, “Really? I was SO close…if only I had left a minute or two earlier I might be on my way home, nothing but the open road in front of me for my 40 minute commute!”  Well good thing I wasn’t, because I was about to witness something that would make me feel like the adult equivalent to a Justin Bieber fan.

I notice the car in front of me turn it’s engine off and I think, “What does he know that I don’t?”  My mind races through the possible horror movie scenarios…maybe there is a crazed gunman on the highway, or structural issues with the overpass I was just about to drive under.  A well-dressed Indian man steps out of the white Honda in front of me and looks back and forth.  I glance in my rear-view mirror and see a younger professional woman at the side of her car, looking perplexed.  I step out of my little black coupe and ask the man in front of me if he can see anything.  He shakes his head.  At this point, there is a clear line of cars behind us.  Some horns honk from far back – clearly, they have no idea we have been stopped by the police.   I get back in my car and wonder if it’s worth shutting the engine off – we clearly aren’t going anywhere soon.  Without internet on my phone, or the patience to scour radio stations for traffic reports, I call my mom at home and ask her to look up reports online.  Then, I see a stream of blue flashing lights.  “Must be some really bad accident,” I somewhat mechanically think as I explain where exactly I am to my mother. And then it registers that there have been at least 5 motorcycle cops who have zoomed by.  Then more, and more.  Several people have exited their cars at this point to look over the edge of our on-ramp. I follow suit.  I hear the word “president” to my right and look to see a balding man and his son, who looks about 7, walk away from their big, black pick-up truck.  Both wear Red Sox shirts – the embodiment of New England men, yet a contrast to the Indian man who is also at the edge of the ramp with his wife.  I reach the edge and look down over the short wall, still on the phone with my mother who has just suggested that maybe someone important is in the area upon hearing about the multitude of motorcycle cops.  I look directly below me and see an SUV, then a limo.  The limo seems familiar.  Two flags flap in the wind of the highway – an American flag and the flag bearing the seal of the President of the United States.

Hold up.

The President?!

That’s when I recall a tweet I saw earlier in the day about Preesident Obama being in Massachusetts.

DID THE PRESIDENT JUST DRIVE BY ME?!?!?!?!?!

I squeal like a little girl to my mother, almost incapable of making words.  The Indian man in front of me is beaming. “Can you believe it?” he exclaims. “Obama is here!”

Now I have been relatively indifferent on President Obama’s term as president. There are stories I hear that make me approve of him, and then the next day I hear a story that makes me sigh with disappointment.  But in that moment of feeling starstruck at the LIMO of the President, I realized something: as an American, I will always have respect for the sovereign head of state.  Obama was elected by the will of a free people, and for that, I must respect him.  We all should.  Millions in the world dream of such a right to elect anyone in their nation, nevermind the head of it.  And so many of us throw away this right through general voter apathy and a lack of civic spiritedness.  But why?

As I got back in my car once the complete motorcade passed by, I was struck by something else.  What a beautiful scene of America I had just taken part in. The middle class father with his young son, the boy undoubtedly making a memory he’ll never forget as he and his father watched the President drive by.  The Indian man and his wife, his accent revealing that he is not originally from this country, but his school-boy excitement mirroring my own nonetheless.  The woman behind me, most likely a young professional, whose silent curiosity reminded me of my own.  And me, a recent college grad and newly licensed  teacher, and thus heavily invested in any and all laws pertaining to education.  In one instant, despite never having met each other and clearly all very different from each other, we were united on an on-ramp in curiosity and awe as the President of our nation drove by.  And I was leaving a HISTORY class on AMERICAN SLAVERY as the nation’s first black president drove by me. How is THAT for a beautiful irony?

I Am Who I Am Because I Was Here

In one week, I will be headed back to the happiest place on earth.  No, not Disney World.  No, this place is less magical, though the way the Chapel looks on a snowy night seems like it’s right out of a picture book.  The magic is instead in how this place has helped me to grow and helped me to become the person I am today.  In reality, this is one place that at times hasn’t really been all that happy for me, but at the end of the day, when its name crosses my lips, an instant smile spreads across my face, and if you don’t cut me off right away, I will begin rambling about this place before you know what hit you.

Assumption College.

Most people outside of Massachusetts have  not heard of this small, Catholic school, located in New England’s second largest city of Worcester, MA.  ImageNestled in a picturesque neighborhood that would never give you the impression that you were indeed in a city, Assumption is a hidden gem and often overlooked for just how strong the education one receives from this place can be, as long as one is willing to make it so.  Growing up just 20 minutes away from the campus in a small, suburban town, I never imagined that I would end up somewhere so close, yet so different from what I was used to for what many people describe as the best four years of their lives.  But as I embarked on my college search, I was surprised to find how perfect it seemed to be for me.  It had everything I was looking for.

Over the years, it has captured every part of my heart.  It has given me dreams and helped me to achieve.  It has granted me irreplaceable friends, bestowed unforgettable memories, and taught me so much more than what is contained in the overpriced textbooks I buy from its bookstore.  I am who I am because of each experience I have had within the bounds of its campus.  From the Duck Pond to the dangerous shortcut trails, my residence halls to the classrooms I’ve spent hours in, every single part of the campus has made me who I am today.

Next Tuesday will be different.  Next Tuesday I will be going back after break for the last time.

I will have student leader training for the last time.  I am heading back for second semester of my senior year, and that scares me.  What’s more, I will be student teaching, a.k.a. working full time for free and not taking classes.  I will be thrust into the real world, while still living with the best roommmates in the world in a gorgeous on-campus apartment that would cost

Image

a fortune if located anywhere else.

I always marvel at how much each semester at this place changes me.  The nervous but excited 18-year-old freshman who first set foot in a small, secluded freshman dorm would not recognize the well-rounded and empowered 22-year-old senior who is about to start her life’s goal of teaching.  Heck, nevermind the 18-year-old version of me, the 21-year-old junior from last spring would not recognize the 22-year-old senior I am now.  It is truly amazing. An old friend who graduated from this same wonderful place two years ago called me today and asked, “Can you believe you’re a second semester senior now?”  I laughed and told him that I can’t even handle it, half-joking but half-serious as well.  I can’t believe that this journey will soon be over and that I will be moving on to the next chapter.

But when I pack up my bags and empty my room at home for the last time next week, I will do so with so much hope and a determination to make this last one count.  Graduating will be scary, but I know that I will be ready for it, personally, professionally, and spiritually.  No matter where the next chapter takes me, I know I will always carry Assumption in my heart.