Last March I was elected student body treasurer alongside three of the kindest, hardest working, most incredible leaders that I now get to call my bestfriends. We had a lot of things that we wanted to accomplish during our term, but we quickly learned how your priorities can change once you are in leadership. University of Arkansas students asked for a voting center on campus like many other Arkansas colleges have. Ryann Alonso, a junior student government member, made it her mission to give the students what they wanted and worked diligently to prepare a proposal for a voting center. For the first few months of our term, we worked as a team to try to make this dream of accessible voting a reality. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, but instead of accepting defeat, the University of Arkansas student government decided to register students in Washington county and prove that college students are civically engaged. Registering voters still was not enough. In October, we worked on a proposal to send six students to the presidential inauguration that would take place on January 20, 2017. After a lot of planning and even more convincing, the Programs Allocation Board, a board comprised of student leaders, and Chancellor Steinmetz approved our request for funds for this trip. Applications to attend the inauguration were open to all University of Arkansas students. The application asked students to explain why they wanted to attend the inauguration, what they hoped to gain from the experience, and how they had served or plan to serve their communities. When the application for the trip came out, I was quick to apply. I have always had an interest in politics, going as far as earning a minor in political science because I enjoyed the courses so much, and wanted to witness history regardless of who would be taking the oath of office. I remember being in a meeting when a fellow student government member who was taking the lead on the trip called me. He asked if I was busy in which I quickly replied, “Yes. What’s up?” Sensing my annoyance and confusion, he quickly asked if I would be interested in attending the inauguration. I’m not sure but I think I yelled “Are you serious? YES!” I later texted him and apologized for being short.
Of the six students chosen to attend the inauguration, I had only met four before we met at 3:30 a.m. to go to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Despite being a little anxious about meeting these students for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised with how easily we all got along (even at 3 a.m.) We were met at the airport at 4 a.m. by a few local news outlets which added to the overall excitement of the trip. Upon landing in D.C. you could feel the power in the air. We were all running very low on sleep after a long day of travel but seemed to get a second wind when our feet first touched the ground in our nation's capital. The first night we scored dinner reservations at a DC hotspot “Farmers Fishers Bakers” where we ran into some UA alumni. After dinner we took a late night stroll around the National Mall, stopping at the Vietnam Memorial. Our walk was cut short though because the police were starting to shut down the area in preparation for the inauguration the next morning. The Inauguration was a humbling experience. Senator John Boozman was kind enough to get us tickets on the capitol lawn for the inauguration which allowed us to feel like we were a part of the event. We were honored to be in the presence of all of the living presidents (with the exception of George HW Bush) which was an incredible feeling. I never imagined in all of my life that I would stand on the capitol lawn and breathe the same air as the most powerful men in the world. The entire inauguration ceremony was shorter than I imagined it would be (lasting less than an hour), but seemed to be over in minutes. I was amazed by how loud the crowd could be when the arrival of someone was announced, but how silent everyone got when President Trump took his oath of office. I think everyone understood the magnitude of the movement and tried to capture it in their minds forever. We were overwhelmed by the willingness of the Arkansas elected officials to meet with us. Governor Asa Hutchinson invited us to have brunch with him at the Capitol Hill Club on Saturday morning. It was incredible to get to hear about all of the things going on in my home state as well as hear his thoughts on the impact President Trump will have on Arkansas. Our time with the Governor was not very long, but he was sure to allow us time to ask him questions. Though Governor Hutchinson is a very kind man, I immediately got nervous when I asked him about legislation affecting our campus. I was pleased with how candidly he answered and even more excited when he asked me my thoughts on the issue.
Saturday was also the day of the women's march. As a woman, I found the event to be inspiring. That afternoon I had decided to separate from the group and try to meet up with a friend that had moved to Washington, D.C. Ultimately, I ended up not finding my friend but instead getting caught in the crowds. There were literally millions of people in the streets (seriously you couldn’t get anywhere), but I still had never felt so safe. It was incredible to be able to witness men and women from all backgrounds march together for something that they believe in so peacefully. The love in Washington, D.C. that day is something I will never forget. When I applied for this trip, I couldn’t wrap my head around the magnitude of seeing the presidential inauguration. Now, I struggle to understand the history that I was able to witness throughout the weekend. Not only were we able to watch a peaceful transition of power and experience the pride that comes with being an American, but we also got to sit at a table and have a conversation with the Governor of Arkansas, and witness the women’s march on Washington.
I cannot help but be overcome with emotion when I think about my experience and when I think about what I owe the University of Arkansas for allowing us this opportunity. I believe life is about taking opportunities, being uncomfortable, and allowing yourself to grow. That extended weekend in Washington, D.C. inspired a newfound appreciation in me for our leaders, the American people, and the opportunities I’ve been afforded. Even now I know that I cannot comprehend the impact this trip will have on my personal and professional life.