Media estimates have varied on the number of people attending the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Donald Trump, but one thing is for certain: Among the hundreds of thousands of attendees was a group of 55 from Forest Lake.
It was December 2015 when Forest Lake political science and social studies instructor Suzanne Stennis-Rogness got together with several other faculty members and began planning a student trip to Washington, D.C., that would be centered on the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States.
“We researched different student travel companies and negotiated our way into what we thought was a very good price,” Stennis-Rogness said. “Each student would pay $1,639 for a five day trip and that price would include all transportation, hotel accommodations, breakfast, dinner, entry fees into museums and other points of interest, and entrance into a student-centric pre-inaugural ball.”
School officials scheduled a meeting with students and parents on Feb. 18 in hopes that at least 30 might sign up for the trip. Ultimately, 50 signed on the dotted line.
“At that time, the field of presidential candidates was 20-something,” Stennis-Rogness said. “No one could know what the next few months would bring. Regardless, all of the students were very excited to witness this smooth transfer of power.”
The Forest Lake group flew out from Minneapolis early on the morning of Jan. 18. They arrived in D.C. and got settled and immediately began a whirlwind tour.
“I say whirlwind tour, but that term is misleading because even though it felt like we were constantly on the go, we did get to see a large number of important monuments, memorials and museums,” Stennis-Rogness said. “Although the trip was for the inauguration, the students very much appreciated the sightseeing and tourist type opportunities.”
Abby Barness was one of the 50 students that took part in the trip.
“On the morning of the inauguration, we were up at 4:30 in the morning and our bus left at 5:15,” she said. “We had to park four miles away and walk to get near our spot for the inauguration. Once we got into a security checkpoint line, we had to walk about another 10 miles to our spot. We were exhausted, but it was worth it.”
Barness said that she would have preferred to have seen Hillary Clinton sworn in, as she would have been excited to see the first female president, but she added that the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing any president sworn in was worthwhile and she was glad to have been there.
The students’ spot near the National Mall was nowhere near close enough to see the actual proceedings, but they were blessed with a great set of speakers and a jumbotron screen near to where they sat, so nothing was missed.
“All in all, this trip was a ton of work up front, but all of it was worthwhile,” Stennis-Rogness said. “It was great to see the students get so excited about the democratic process. I took a trip similar to this when I was a sophomore in high school, and I can tell you for certain that I would not be doing what I am today had it not been for that experience.”