Studying History—And Seeing It For Themselves


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By Juan Antonio Lizama
Published: January 17, 2009

RICHMOND, Va.—After seeing videos on YouTube of Barack and Michelle Obama dancing on a TV show, a group of Cosby High School students is trying to outdo them with the Cupid Shuffle.

The Chesterfield County students and faculty were swaying their hips in the school’s auditorium last week in preparation for their trip to Washington for the inauguration events, which include a ball where students plan to perform the dance.

About 55 students, chaperones and teachers from Cosby leave tomorrow and will return Tuesday night after the swearing-in and inaugural parade.

This is the first presidential inauguration for the students, but it will be the eighth for Anne S. Canipe, a history teacher who organized the trip. Her father took her to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration when she was 5. She has taken students to presidential inaugurations since 1981 and has witnessed the swearing-in of Ronald Reagan twice, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

“When I became a teacher of history,” she said, “I thought that it was really important for the kids to go and visit places where things happen and to witness something at the moment it was happening. It would help them remember.”

Students feel fortunate to be part of history, even though they know it will be tough to endure freezing weather while surrounded by at least a million people trying to do the same.

“I’m very excited that I’ll get to see the president face to face,” said 11th-grader Will Henry. “That’s pretty cool.”

The group will visit museums and Arlington National Cemetery, where it will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Three of Canipe’s students have relatives buried at Arlington.

They’ll also participate in a pre-inaugural ball at the George Washington Masonic Temple, where servers dressed as former presidents and first ladies will hold a mock news conference for students.

Another group of students from Cosby High and Manchester High has been invited by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to help plant 44 trees in Obama’s honor at Anacostia Park as part of the national Day of Service on Monday.

Other students from Richmond, Henrico County and Petersburg are attending the inauguration. Ten students, the principal and a teacher from Binford Middle School in Richmond received tickets from Virginia first lady Anne Holton on Wednesday.

Four students from Henrico and Petersburg are going to the inauguration as guests of the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, which has invited youngsters from across the country for its inaugural conference.

Ebony Patterson, a student at Peabody Middle School in Petersburg, is leaving Saturday and will participate in leadership workshops.

“I’m most excited about the ball and going to the inauguration,” she said. “I know I might get to see Barack Obama in person at the ball.”

In Henrico, Amanda Blankenship, an eighth-grade student at Elko Middle School, and Allison Carpenter, a freshman at Varina High School, also are attending the inauguration.

Carpenter said she’s excited about having speakers at the conference the caliber of cycling champion Lance Armstrong, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Vice President Al Gore. She has her black dress for the ball picked out, she said.

“I really want to dance with Barack Obama,” she said.

Blankenship said that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I’m expecting to get a lot of knowledge and experiences that . . . will last a lifetime.”

Juan Antonio Lizama is a staff writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.


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