It was months before the long list of candidates vying for a presidential run had shaken down to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton when Rockhurst High School government teacher Chris Lawson decided he wanted his students at this inauguration event.
“Having taught American government 27 years, I sensed this campaign would be one of the most public and controversial,” Lawson said.
Lawson had received an email from the Close-Up Foundation offering what he thought would be “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for some Rockhurst boys, regardless of who ended up winning the election.
Close-Up partners with schools across the country to provide situations for students to develop skills and attitudes needed to become informed and engaged citizens.
Once the high school was behind the idea, Lawson put out the call. He would take up to 25 students to Washington, D.C., to attend the inauguration.
That was in May. He didn’t get many takers.
But in July, Clinton named Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a 1976 Rockhurst grad, as her running mate, and student inquiry about the $2,300-a-person trip picked up.
This week, 12 students and two teachers are visiting D.C., and Friday morning, the group will be among the thousands who watch up-close and personal as Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
Rockhurst students have joined about 800 high school students from around the country on the Close-Up trip.
All week long, the young men from Rockhurst and their teachers have toured the capital city, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is in high demand and pretty hard to get into, Lawson said.
They also spent Wednesday on Capitol Hill, where they visited the offices of Congressmen Emanuel Cleaver and Sam Graves of Missouri — and ran into Kaine on his way from a prayer meeting to attend confirmation hearings.
In Sen. Roy Blunt’s office, “the Rockhurst students got lucky,” Lawson said.
Blunt, who is a member the presidential inauguration committee, just happened to have 14 tickets available that would move the young men and their teachers out of the general event-going population and put them inside the barricades and closer to the inauguration grand stand.
Most of the students on the trip haven’t said one way or the other how they feel about Trump as the nation’s next president, although Lawson said two or three of the students are particularly excited to attend a Trump inauguration.
What’s important, Lawson said, is they will remember for life having attended a history-making event. Lawson gets it; this is his first presidential inauguration, too.
“I think they may appreciate it even more after it’s over,” Lawson said. “You just can’t get this experience from a book.”