Student Leaders Draw Inspiration from Bush Inauguration|
By I-Wei J. Chang
Capital News Service
Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005
WASHINGTON - Melinda Pearl spent a busy week, meeting with leading
policymakers and journalists, engaging in a mock presidential election
and enjoying a cruise on the Potomac River.
But Thursday's presidential swearing-in was clearly the high point
of the week for the Bethesda Chevy Chase High School senior.
"It was so good," said Melinda, 17, who had a ticket to inaugural
that put her in the standing area of the Capitol nearest the
Melinda was one of 10 Maryland students who came to Washington this
week as part of the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference, a
quadrennial event that this year brought 600 high-school students from
across the country to the nation's capital.
The weeklong conference is sponsored by the Congressional Youth
Leadership Council, a non-profit educational organization that taps
high-achieving students who are nominated by teachers and guidance
counselors for the annual National Young Leaders Conference.
Alumni of the annual conference who are chosen for the inaugural
conference get to participate in inaugural activities and learn about
pressing domestic and foreign issues from experts and government and
Mary O'Malley, 17, of Hagerstown, said she learned how to debate
and support her opinions during the conference.
"It forced me to come out of my shell," said O'Malley, a junior at
Mercersburg Academy. "I'm better at defending my opinions,
politically, religiously, or whatever."
Ashley Pastor, 17, from Carroll County, called the weeklong
conference a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about the
presidency." The senior at Liberty High School in Sykesville drew
inspiration from members of the Bush family and administration,
watching intently as first lady Laura Bush was introduced Thursday
amid cheers from the crowd.
"She hasn't done much as other first ladies, but I admire her,"
Ashley said. "She knows her place, lays low and supports her husband."
But it was a top administration official -- Secretary of
State-nominee Condoleeza Rice -- who elicited the strongest response
from Ashley, who said she hopes to become an intelligence analyst
"She is awesome," Ashley said of Rice. "She's smart and strong,
stepping up to be the secretary of state. I hope she runs for
Ashley and her friends rooted when Bush took the oath, but were
annoyed when a protestor walked around holding up a white T-shirt that
read, "Bush is lying."
"Get them out of here," said Mary, the Hagerstown student who is
also a Bush supporter. She said she was "looking forward to the
inaugural address," to hear Bush's plans for Iraq, homeland security
and health care.
Melinda said "it was so disrespectful" for protestors who screamed
anti-Bush chants during the speech.
"I would never do that. I would never protest during the speech,"
But Shannon Paige, 17, a senior at Towson Catholic High School, did
not seem to mind because Bush "said what I've already heard, a
reiteration of his policies."
She faulted Bush for not doing an adequate job on the treatment of
minorities, particularly on civil rights, as well as poverty and
"It seems like what he's saying he is not actually doing," Shannon
Melinda, a self-described conservative, said she has "opened up to
a lot of different viewpoints" across the political spectrum as a
result of the conference. But, unlike Shannon, she was still thrilled
by the president's speech.
"I loved the inauguration speech," she said. "It was really
directed to the young people and it gave hope and inspiration to young
2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of
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