A growing number of local elected officials are not planning to attend Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration Friday. But one group of Chicago seventh and eighth graders is putting politics aside so they don’t miss this historic event.
“We’ve been planning this for two years, and it was regardless who was going to be president,,” said Jenny Vincent, a social studies teacher at Alcott Elementary, a Chicago public school in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Vincent secured tickets to the event through U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Chicago), who is not planning to go. Quigley is among a growing list of Illinois Democrats not attending. His office issued a statement saying he will instead spend the time “with those who have elected him to represent them in Congress.”
Vincent, who grew up in a liberal family, said she was torn about going on the trip when the election results started rolling in.
“The teacher side was absolutely, we’re still going,” she said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. But personally, I was like, ‘Oh sweet petunias, what are we going to do with this one?’”
Vincent said the entire election season was challenging for many teachers, but it provided plenty of “teachable moments” as students begin to develop their own political identities.
“(Students are) coming to grips with, ‘This might be different than my best friend and how do I reconcile that?’” Vincent said. “It’s OK to have these differences and here’s how we’re going to deal with it and treat each other respectfully. If the adults could watch the kids, we’d be in a much better place.”
Chicago is a Democratic stronghold and voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. But Vincent said there are a few Republicans in the group going to the nation’s capital.
“For the last eight years, a bunch of people were upset because Obama was president,” Vincent said. “Just because it’s something you don’t like doesn’t mean you pick up your toys and you go home.”
The students going on the trip were in preschool when Barack Obama became the country’s 44th president and the first black person to hold the office.
“I remember my grandma dragging me into the living room to have me watch Obama’s inauguration,” said Harrison Howell, a seventh grader at Alcott. “I never thought I would actually be able to go to one.”
The students from Alcott will be in the nation’s capital through Saturday. They will visit Smithsonian museums, the major monuments on National Mall and even attend an inaugural ball just for students.
Most of the students going on the trip said they are most excited about other parts of the trip. Maia Hrejsa said she hopes to run into the Obama family’s dogs, Bo and Sunny.
But for Adam Belker, the trip is somewhat bittersweet.
“I think it would be cool to go on this trip and hang out with my classmates because at high school, we’re all going to break apart and go to different high schools and we might never see each other again, so going to D.C. together is going to be cool,” Belker said.
“Honestly, I’m kind of excited about the plane ride,” he added.
Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.