p-phsinauguration-012809 'I was there' PHS students savor sights, sounds of inauguration
PORTLAND – Two Portland High School students are still soaring from experiencing first-hand Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th president of the United States.
Sam Campbell and Max Dismore, 16-year-old juniors, were surprised on Christmas Day with tickets to witness the historic inauguration of the nation's first black president.
At times, however, it seemed like uncontrollable elements were conspiring against them.
First, there was a snow storm that dumped a foot of snow throughout Maine and northern New England.
Then, after they arrived in Washington, D.C., the enormous crowds almost kept from getting through the gates.
Campbell said his father, Matt, who is a real estate attorney, began working the phones and e-mail to convince Sen. Susan Collins's office to part with the coveted tickets shortly after Obama's election. Those calls didn't produce results until a week before Christmas.
The students had tickets that basically guaranteed them front-row seats to history – just beyond the first reflective pool in front of the Capitol. The location was close enough to see the action live, rather than on one of the 20 Jumbotrons placed throughout the National Mall.
Getting to the inauguration was a challenge. Not only did the students have to travel to Washington during a severe snowstorm, but they also had to get through the crowded D.C. subways and streets.
Both students were stuck, however, by the lack of stress and frustration. "Everyone was in such a good mood," Dismore said.
Dismore and Campbell, who were spotted by friends watching MSNBC, stayed with a family friend who lived in downtown Washington, near George Washington University Hospital, about 3 1/2 miles from Capitol Hill. After bundling up in several layers, the students left for the inauguration at 8 a.m.
They arrived at the entry gate only to find a sprawling line of thousands of people. That lane only moved, by their estimate, three steps every 10 minutes or so. As the start time of the inauguration drew near, rumors began circulating that people without tickets had gotten in and those still in line would not be granted entrance.
"We really didn't think we'd get in," Campbell said.
Hysteria soon followed, with many people forgoing the line and storming the gate. Dismore said security officials were overcome by the stampeding crowd, most of whom got into the ceremony without being cleared by security officials.
"Finally, this whole mass of people just started rushing in," Dismore said. "Eventually, the security guards just gave up."
They made it in just as the ceremony started. Dismore said at first he couldn't believe he was actually listening to Aretha Franklin sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Then, when Obama and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts arrived, the students had another realization.
"For me, it showed that the president and chief justice are human," Dismore said.
Although millions of people watched the ceremony in the warm comfort of their living rooms or work places, Dismore and Campbell said they wouldn't have wanted to witness history any other way – in the freezing cold watching the thousands of tiny American flags waving and listening to the roar of the crowd that swept like a tidal wave from the Capitol steps to the Lincoln Memorial.
"It's a lot different when you see it live," Campbell said. "When you're there with the crowd you look around and they're hanging on every word."
Not only that, but when the history books are written, both students will be able to say " I was there."