Lawrentian Neil Menghani '15 was invited by the High School Inaugural Conference to attend celebrations surrounding America’s 57th Presidential Inauguration. The Third Former was excited to share his experiences:
On Wednesday, May 23, 2012, I received an envelope in the mail addressed to me from the Dean of Academic Affairs at the HPIC, High School Presidential Inaugural Conference. The enclosed letter stated that I was invited to attend a five-day leadership conference, in which I would get the opportunity to hear from keynote speakers such as Dr. Condoleezza Rice and General Wesley Clark. In addition, as the name of the conference implies, I would be able to witness the 57th Presidential Inauguration in person!
On the first day of the conference, arrival day, I registered and checked into my hotel. There were activities and workshops for all of the scholars, but I had not been acquainted with anybody yet, so I was not sure what to do. I sat down at the table labeled “Washington 17,” the name of my group, where I would have dinner that night. Slowly, kids in my group started to sit down at the table, and I introduced myself. I had fascinating conversations with these high school students, whom I had never met before. After a wonderful meal and introductions from the Director of HPIC, I went back to my room, excited to meet my new roommate. As I expected, my roommate was somebody I could relate well with.
On the second day, January 21, which was also the day before the inauguration, I met with my group to learn about the presidential campaign process, learn about the roles of the various members of Cabinet, and learn about what it means to be a leader in general. One of the tasks we had to perform in groups was to create a poster and slogan for a presidential candidate that we were assigned. In addition, we would have to deliver this candidate’s speech. While I was discussing with my group, our faculty advisor came over to me and said, “Neil, I need to talk to you.” The way she said it made me feel as if I was in trouble. I thought I had done something wrong already, even though it had been less than one day that I had been in D.C. My faculty advisor handed me a red card, which said I would get a photo opportunity with Condoleezza Rice. My face lit up, and my stomach churned with excitement as well as a bit of nervousness!
Later that day, we heard from Dr. Rice, who talked about passion and how one finds a passion. She discussed how she originally wanted to be a concert pianist, but later she found herself interested in political science. Little did she know that later she would become Secretary of State of the United States of America! I found that I was able to relate very well with this speech because, even though there are many things that I am passionate about, I have yet to find my true passion in life. After Dr. Rice’s presentation, 39 other scholars and I walked to a special room, where we waited to have our photo opportunity with Dr. Rice. As my turn came, I walked onto the stage with Dr. Rice, shook her hand, and said, “Hello, my name is Neil Menghani.” She replied that it was nice to meet me. I then said, “Thank you so much! It is such an honor to be able to meet you!” With a smile on her face, Dr. Rice said directly to me, “It’s no problem at all.”
On day three, almost 35 weeks after receiving the exciting news, I found myself on the bus to Barack Obama's inauguration at 4:30 a.m., not so excited about my lack of sleep but nevertheless looking forward to Obama's speech at noon. I soon forgot that I had barely slept the previous night and instead could not stop thinking about what lay ahead: I would witness an important historic event, which is not something many people get the opportunity to do.
At about 8:15 a.m., the faculty released us in groups of six from the National Air and Space Museum onto the National Mall. As soon as I saw the immense sea of about one million ecstatic Americans, I was in complete awe. I had never seen so many people assembled together for a common cause. As Dr. Rice said when she had addressed us scholars at the HPIC conference, we, as Americans, are lucky that we can observe the peaceful ceremonial transfer or reaffirmation of power, a privilege many countries do not enjoy.
At 11:30 a.m., after introducing all of the previous presidents who are still alive (except for the Bushes, who were not in attendance), Senator Charles E. Schumer, Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Ceremonies, introduced President Barack H. Obama, who then walked out to greet America. The president’s inspirational, charismatic delivery made everybody in the crowd rejoice in pride and contentedness at the fact that we are a country of freedom and that we can exercise our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I could sort of make out our president’s shape at the Capitol, but seeing him clearly on the giant video screens set up around the Mall was enough for me. Complete with the atmosphere of American patriotism, this experience was definitely the best that I, with my waving American flag, had ever had.
On my fourth day at the HPIC, General Wesley Clark spoke to the scholars. He talked to us mainly about courage and why we should never give up. He recounted the story of how he was shot four times, but he still fought to survive and eventually received a purple heart. Clark’s story is not only inspirational but it is also something anybody can relate to. Although people typically don’t get bullet wounds on a regular basis, we all face challenges that we must face bravely. Clark definitely made my experience at the Presidential Inaugural Conference, which was already very memorable, even more incredible.
On the last day at the conference, I did not want to say goodbye to the people I had gotten to know over the previous four days, but I was still looking forward to coming back to Lawrenceville. I was glad that I had participated in such an amazing conference, but I knew I could not afford to miss any more work. Witnessing Obama address the nation at his inauguration is one of the luckiest things I will ever get the chance to do, and I cannot wait to see what he does for our country in his second term in office.
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