#WHSocial: French Arrival Ceremony for Pres. Hollande


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


(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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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.



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? 


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.


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.


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.

Lessons from an Old Man to a Young Friend

The romantic inside of me grew about 10 sizes today. She’s been looking a little lean lately, since there hasn’t been much to feed her. Stories of bruised and broken hearts tend to wear away at her, diminishing her smile and sucking the rosiness from her cheeks. But today, she grew.

This is my second summer as an intern at a private museum, its contents owned by an elderly but still prominent local businessman with a true passion for American history that rivals my own. He seems to have done everything and met everyone, including starting his own nation-wide business, speaking to the United States Senate, building a hospital in Vietnam, opening a branch of his business in China, and orchestrating a million dollar fundraiser for a local food pantry. He is a bit demanding and it can be a challenge to fully follow his ideas, but over time he has come to call me his “lovely young friend,” even telling me once last summer that he regards me like a granddaughter. I thoroughly enjoy the one-on-one conversations that take place as he combs through the museum with me in tow, in search of a new project.  These encounters are rare, but I have come to crave the entertaining anecdotes and the irreplaceable wisdom that accompany them.  Today, as we came across an over-sized porfolio documenting his accomplishments with the hospital in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he asked me, “Would you say that I’ve had an interesting life?”

“Absolutely!!” I exclaimed. By my age, this man had served in the Korean War and was on the path to starting his own business. “I feel like I learn something new and interesting about you every day!”

We began to walk back toward his office. “Well,” he said pensively, putting his hand on my shoulder. At this point, I expected to hear the secrets to great success and prepared myself to take copious mental notes. “I couldn’t have done it without a wonderful wife.”

“From everything I’ve heard, she sounds like a wonderful woman,” I said with a smile as my heart began to melt.

“It’s all her…without her, none of this would have been possible.”

We walked in silence and then he addressed his secretary, customarily signaling the end to our conversation. I returned to my desk, tears forming in my eyes over such a beautiful testimony of true, everlasting adoration for one’s spouse. From all accounts that I’ve heard, she has never failed to stand by him, through genuine trials and his grand successes, and he clearly gushes over her when she comes up in conversation.

Throughout this internship, I’ve learned so much about American history. It’s a history major’s dream after all, to be paid to conduct historical research and write about it on a daily basis. Watching my boss’s business, I’ve learned the importance of networking and utilizing one’s connections. But today I came to realize that I’ve learned a lot more from watching the man behind it all, removed from the business and the museum. For you are never too successful, too old, too powerful, or too well-connected to not owe your success to those who support you. You are never above showing your gratitude for them. You must pursue your passions in every way possible, no matter how lofty such a goal may be. And you must always, always give back to the community who produced you and molded you into the person you are today. While the little romantic within me grew today, so did the woman she hides behind in really appreciating these lessons.

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.


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?

What My Students Taught Me

So when I started this blog back in January, I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to share all the things I learn about myself during student teaching!” Well, big surprise, student teaching turned out to be so time-consuming, that I hardly had the time to talk

My amazing and inspiring supervising practitioner – I couldn’t have done this without her!

to friends about the day-to-day lessons, never mind write about them here.  But in order to wrap it all up, I’m going to compile the whole 12-weeks of planning, grading, laughter, tears, hours of driving, chipping ice off of my car, professional wardrobe issues, and self-discovery into a top 10 list.

1) You can never plan every little detail…

Throughout my education, I hated the idea of giving a presentation without having my material planned out word for word.  Whenever I tried to rely on simple bullet points, I inevitably left out key details and felt like I gave a confusing and jumbled presentation.  Boy, was I in for a shock! There is simply  no way a teacher can anticipate everything that he or she will say in the course of the day.  From discussions about my brother’s dating life during my first official observation by my education professor, to questions about whether or not grinding occurs at college dances, there were many moments where I had to give answers to tough questions.  As the semester progressed and I had my complete load of three classes, it became even more difficult to feel like I had thoroughly planned the day.  But I dealt with it, and came to realize that I really WAS capable of delivering content without a word-for-word presentation.

2) It’s ok to say “I don’t know”

Anyone who knows me well would definitely describe me as a history nerd.  I embrace the title – if there was a crown or a sash to go along with it, I would wear it (though I think I would prefer a sceptre…it’s very historically royal).  But as any historian would tell you, it is simply impossible to know everything about history.  High schoolers can be very curious, and sometimes they ask very tough and specific questions, like when a certain canon was invented or what the population of Alaska is. (I legitimately heard these questions asked, no lie).  But it’s ok to say I don’t know.  But with that, a teacher must encourage that curiosity – it’s healthy to the development of a student.

3) It can always get worse

Day 12. I have an awesome lesson planned about the Tiananmen Square Massacre for my honors-level juniors, complete with a stellar powerpoint that has maps, images, and thought-provoking quotes from my friend’s parents who are Chinese immigrants and left China just a few years before the Massacre.  I was stoked.  But when I put my flashdrive in that morning to open it, the powerpoint is not there.  The corresponding note sheet is not there.  “Maybe the drive just isn’t working” I think, blaming it on the used, school-loaned computer.  I hand it over to my cooperating teacher, panic setting in.  Nope, not there – the computer isn’t even registering that there is a flashdrive plugged into it.  Anyone can imagine the thoughts – and expletives – running through my head.  But I had to teach.  There was no time to cry, no time to freak out.  I had to pull something together within an hour and a half before 3rd period waltzed in.

And that’s when the tiny voice said, “It could be worse.”

It could have been.  I could have lost everything.  I could have forgotten all of the material, or deleted the email with those quotes that served as a great discussion starter. I luckily had an older version of the powerpoint saved on my personal laptop back at Assumption, and my life-saver of a roommate was able to send it to me.  The lesson I delivered that day wasn’t as good as it would  have been.  But it was good.  It had depth.  Sure, the images weren’t as great, but I did my job and kept it together for the sake of my students.

4)   Don’t forget someone else’s perspective

History teachers are always aware of perspective.  We must teach the victory in the Pacific theater of World War II very differently from the U.S. perspective in a U.S. history class from when we must show the horrors of the atomic bomb when we teach the Japanese perspective.  But students have perspective too.  Even though being a teenager feels like a lifetime ago sometimes, I realized that I can’t forget what it’s like and how complex life can be.  I had some students dealing with tough stuff – health problems, friend drama, family dynamics.  They are very multi-faceted individuals outside of my history classroom.  So sometimes you have to work with that.  And you must take the time to check in, to wish them well on that health test.  At weekend mass, I prayed for my students.  Sometimes life can really suck, and as a teacher who sees her students on a daily basis, I must act as a support and a comfort, not an antagonist who could care less about a student’s life like some teachers can be faulted for doing.

5)  Be silly

I definitely tend to be nervous when I want to do my best.  And I have always wanted to be a great teacher.  As tense as I were those first few weeks, I learned that I had to loosen up in order to create the kind of classroom I wanted to.  One moment that stands out to me is one of my first history jokes.  We were studying reform movements and key figures.  As students listed key figures from the reforms, they mentioned Horace Mann, whom many regard as the father of public education in America.  I love him.  He’s a Massachusetts guy and teachers today owe a lot to him.  As I wrote his name on the board, I giggled, “Horace Mann – he’s the MAN” and laughed at myself.  One girl, who was not the strongest in the class, laughed loudly and proclaimed, “Ms. Murphy, that was REALLY funny.”  It made my day.

In Central Park with a statue of Alexander Hamilton (I said I was a history nerd…)


This should go without saying, but when you’re nervous, stressed, overtired, and trying to prepare yourself for the next class while you’re in the middle of teaching another one, it’s hard to remember that.  By the second week, I realized I had to take the advice of classroom management guru, Dr. Diane Myers, at Assumption and stand outside the class, every day, and welcome the students.  I noticed a difference immediately.  It was simple – smile, say hi, ask how each is doing, compliment a cute Vera bag or a team spirit outfit.  People will respect you all the more for it.

7) Be yourself

When you feel like your students are a little to close to your age for comfort, you want to be as professional as possible. But you have to be yourself too.  Some of my girls in one of my freshmen classes loved when I had different nail polish on (one of my favorite quotes: “OhMyGod, CRACKLE!!!).  Others asked about college.  You still have to be professional, but you have to show them that you’re a real person too.

8) It’s all about community
I had the awesome privilege of completing my student teaching at the same high school I graduated from 4 years ago.  I owe so much to the education I received there, and I still do a double take whenever I see a high school-age person wearing maroon and gold, thinking it could be someone from my high school.  Throughout college, I’ve really committed to giving back to the community, and going back to “the Reg” to teach was an extension of that.  Take the time to go back to those people and places that made you who you are and do something for them.

My education roommates with some of the wonderful faculty of Assumption’s Education Department who prepared us to do this!

9) Even though it’s the 21st Century, it can still be tough to be a woman

He never stopped challenging me, especially when the principal was observing me teach.  My supervising practitioner told me she thought it was a female teacher thing, since she had the same struggles with this student. But it still sucked.  It was hard to keep calm.  And it was frustrating knowing that somewhere along the line, this young male had had it ingrained in him that it was ok to be disrespectful to women.  But it could have been worse – he just challenged me about the content and sometimes my methods, nothing else.  I think you all know what I’m alluding to here.  And maybe I will deal with that in the classroom.  But I will do everything I can to create a culture of respect in my classroom, regardless of any personal qualifier.

10) Mentors are THE BEST

The AP US history teacher who is the one most responsible for me becoming the kind of teacher I want to be.  The supervising practitioner whose love for history and dedication to teaching others how to teach made a lasting impact on me as I grew as a teacher.  The college supervisor whose constant advice and support and lessons in teaching history were invaluable to my success.  The content advisor who showed true pride when he observed me teach, sharing with me the life-long goal that he had helped me prepare for since he became my academic advisor freshman year. The thesis advisor who took the time to ask about teaching and offer wisdom applicable to educators at all levels.  The roommates who supported me through the challenges and laughed with me at the faux pas.  The girlfriends back home who’ve known me since elementary school, who shared my joy in doing what I’ve always wanted to. The friends who calmed me down the night before my first lesson, checked in regularly, and supported me and loved me even when the extreme stress made me not always act like myself.  No matter how old, how experienced, or how overwhelmed, mentors are the best resource anyone can ever have.

I have a job. I have a Massachusetts Educator License.  In August, I will begin my teaching career and finally living out my passion. Thank you to everyone who supported me, everyone who cared, and everyone who helped me to get here.  I will always try to make you proud!