April 24 • 10:44 AM

Trip of a lifetime

Capac father, son visit D.C. for historic inauguration

January 28, 2009
CAPAC — In a sea of smiling people Pat White was riding a wave of good vibes as huge crowds of people gathered at the Mall in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

"It was a really great feeling," the 16-year-old Capac High School junior says. "The atmosphere was so uplifting. People were there from all over the country. It was a positive atmosphere."

Pat was indeed "shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip" with the huge crowds who'd gathered for the inauguration of the nation's first black president.

He earned a spot at the historic event through the National Young Leaders Conference connections he made when he was in 7th grade. His teacher was Judy Brown, and she nominated Pat for the experience because of his classroom leadership skills.

Since then, he's been invited to a number of leadership conferences, and his family has supported his efforts to attend. So when he got an invitation to the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference, Pat was pleased—but not too surprised.

"You never know what you might get invited to," he says.

For the Inaugural, Pat teamed up with his dad, Gary, and made the road trip to DC. Pat stayed at the youth conference headquarters in Herndon, Virginia. Gary stayed in College Park, Maryland.

Along with 7,000 young people from across the country, Pat's five day experience included a lot of special events and activity.

The first few days they gathered at the University of Maryland in College Park taking in a number of perspectives from a roster of impressive speakers.

Among those were Mrs. Doris Goodwin, who worked with President Lyndon Johnson, Lisa Ling, a young journalist who has worked with Oprah Winfrey, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell and Erik Weinhenmayer, who was the first blind man to climb Mt. Everest.

The speakers related the variety of qualities it takes to be a leader, with Powell reiterating the importance of the Civil Rights Acts. Pat says many commented on President Obama's candidacy, and their feeling that his election was a step in the right direction for the country.

His favorite address was made by former Vice President Al Gore, who capped off the list of speakers.

"It was really inspiring, really good," Pat says. "He talks about the environment and how we can make sure we take care of it. My dad works for environmental causes so I related to it a lot."

As for the day of the inauguration, Pat and some of his fellow young leaders attempted to make their way to the Mall.

Capac wrestler Pat White, a high school junior, captures a shot of the sea of people converging on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for last week’s inauguration of President Barack Obama.

"We started out by the Washington Monument and thought we could get up close to the Mall," he says. "By the time we got about two or three football fields away from the Washington Monument we were literally hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder with everyone. It was just crazy down there."

Pat and his new friends decided to head over to the National Baseball Stadium and watch the inauguration on the big screen.

"A ten minute walk to get back to a main street took about an hour," he says of leaving the crowded Mall. "But the stadium was a lot warmer and there were a lot less people there."

Pat, who participates in wrestling, football, track and the National Honor Society at Capac High School, says he really enjoyed meeting other young people from across the country.

"I was even hanging around with a wrestler from Barack Obama's High School (in Punahou, Hawaii)," Pat says.

Along with meeting famous leaders and making new friends, Pat enjoyed taking in a humorous play by the Reduced Shakespeare Company and a performance by the 'Capitol Steps.'

Though he wasn't able to spend the week with his son, Gary enjoyed the Washington, D.C. experience as well.

"I went to the Mall on Sunday afternoon during the concerts—when Bruce Springsteen and everyone played—and walked around," he says. "It was really very cool, a real party atmosphere that culminated in Barack Obama's speech. People were in a very good mood. It was exciting."

Gary decided not to make the trip back to the Mall on inauguration day, since he'd already had a dose of huge crowd gridlock.

"On Sunday it took three hours to drive 20 miles back to my hotel—they estimated there were about 250,000 people on the National Mall," Gary says. "When I heard a projection of two million for the actual inauguration I thought I wasn't going to try to fight that crowd. I stayed in and watched it on tv."

It's an experience he likely wouldn't have had without Pat's invitation, Gary says. And while he liked being in D.C. for the historic event, he enjoyed spending time with his son even more.

"I really enjoyed the drive there and home, it was a cool time with my son," Gary says. "In busy times with work and school activities it's hard to find time to really sit down and talk. Every parent's been through that. I really enjoyed talking to him on the trip there and back."

Along with Pat, Gary and his wife Candice have another son, Noah, 13. Noah has also been nominated for and involved in Junior National Young Leaders conferences.

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