From the classroom to the Capitol

Clark students heading to D.C. for Inauguration Day program
By Pamela H. Sacks


When Amanda Gregoire enrolled in a course on elections, she knew she would learn about campaigning, polling and national voting patterns.

What Ms. Gregoire, a junior at Clark University, did not know was that the course, which began in the fall of 2008, would lead to a front-row seat at the goings on in Washington, D.C., surrounding the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th president. Now, with the festivities drawing near, she is thrilled at what Inauguration Day will bring.

Just before Election Day, Ms. Gregoire and three other Clark students, all government majors, were awarded Francis Harrington fellowships to attend “The Presidential Inauguration,” a 10-day program sponsored by The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars.

Saturday, Ms. Gregoire, a Worcester native, will fly to the nation’s capital, where she will meet up with the other Clark students, Janette Ekanem of Randolph, Drew Silverman of Nashua, N. H. and Sam Reznik of Encino, Calif.

The class on U.S. elections was exciting, Ms. Gregoire said, but “this is the icing on the cake.”

The visit to Washington will be Ms. Gregoire’s first. When she was in eighth grade, she was supposed to go as a member of the Goddard Scholars, but the 9-11 terrorist attacks occurred and the trip was canceled.

While Ms. Gregoire is elated because she voted for Mr. Obama, she quickly underscored that she will not be able to attend the inauguration itself. Tickets, though free, are nearly impossible to come by. She will be part of the overflow crowd viewing the ceremony on giant screens.

“I’ve got my batteries all charged to take photos,” she said.

Professor Sharon Krefetz, chairwoman of Clark’s Department of Government and International Relations, appeared to be only half joking when she noted that the opportunity was so appealing that faculty members asked her, “Can we go? Will they take us?” She had to reply with a disappointing, “No. It’s only for students.”

During the program, seminars and lectures each morning will focus on the new administration and the media. Scholars and journalists will examine how the candidates used the press and how it influenced the election’s outcome. They will look at the current relationship between Obama and journalists and how it is likely to evolve as the new president and his cabinet settle in.

In the afternoons, the students will visit embassies and “think tanks,” such as the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center. The hope is that the students will be able to talk to diplomats, policymakers and media personalities and come away with a variety of viewpoints on what the next four years might hold.

The students will stay in housing owned by The Washington Center; nearly all of their costs are covered by the fellowships, worth $2,000 each. On their return to campus, they will share what they learn with the Clark community.

The purpose of the Harrington fellowships is to create an interest in becoming active in public affairs. For her part, Ms. Gregoire plans to earn a master’s degree in public administration from Clark and go on to law school.

Ms. Krefetz and her colleagues hope the students will be inspired to become politically active, perhaps running for office someday or returning to Washington for a cabinet post – or even becoming presidential candidates themselves.