Thursday January 15, 2009

Witnessing History

As the nation swears in its next president, several from the University community will witness the historic occasion firsthand.

Members of the University of Dayton community will be among the millions heading to Washington, D.C., to witness the historic swearing-in of Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president.

First-year students Courtney Regensburger of Cincinnati and Vincent Reese of Jackson, Ohio, will be on the National Mall for the ceremony as part of the University Presidential Inaugural Conference. In their five days in Washington, they'll also attend a black-tie ball and hear lectures, panel discussions and debates.

In the inaugural parade, 1971 UD music education graduate Peter Horton will be at the helm of the Trumbull, Conn., High School marching band, which also marched in the inaugural parade of President George Bush in 2001.

In an unusual twist, University of Dayton buddies Kevin Monahan '00, Brian Marchal '01 and John Megyimori will join humorist Dave Barry and march with lawnmowers in the inaugural parade as part of the "World Famous Lawn Rangers from Amazing Arcola, Illinois." The precision lawn drill team, whose motto is, "You're only young once, but you can always be immature," features members from 21 to 80 years old who push whimsically decorated mowers, according to an inaugural blog. Obama marched with them in Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parade in 2003.

Yolanda Copeland, an administrative assistant in the provost's office, and Kathleen Henderson, director of first-year student engagement, will be attending the inauguration, as will Mike Kurtz of UD's media production group and Lindsay Tate, an area coordinator in residence education. Tate is traveling with her mother, a sister and a friend.

"We are so excited to witness this historic event," Tate said. "It will definitely be something to tell my children one day. We all hope that Obama can rebuild the negative image of America that most of the world currently holds."

Brian Wafzig, a student in UD's Master of Public Administration program, received a call Jan. 13 from Sen. George Voinovich's office, offering him two tickets to the ceremony.

"I had e-mailed Sen. (Sherrod) Brown and Sen. (George) Voinovich back in October and assumed I was not getting tickets until they called yesterday," he said. "I helped out in the Dayton area just like so many other people during the summer and fall with the Obama campaign. … While watching Barack Obama speak at the 2004 Democratic Convention with my parents, I turned to them as soon as it was over and said, 'Wow -- he is going to be president one day.'"

Wafzig said his grandfather attended the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and still recounts the event with relish.

"He drove down to Cincinnati, got on a train in the middle of the night and got to Washington the morning of the inauguration," Wafzig said. "He said the only thing he took with him were three cameras slung around his neck. Two years ago at our family Christmas dinner, he got out the projector and made the family watch a slideshow of the pictures he took from the ceremony."

Lynnette Heard, executive director of the president's office, will be participating in a day of service in Washington, D.C., on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and attending various inaugural events.  "I can't help but think about King's life and legacy in the context and backdrop of the advent of the inauguration of the nation's first man of color, a truly African-American man, who has proven by his own life that Dr. King's dream was born out of a vision of possibilities and hope," she said.

And though Angela Parker of UD's information technology division will not be in Washington on Tuesday, she'll be watching the inauguration in Trotwood, Ohio, with her father, Frank Parker, who grew up in Greenwood, Miss., in the earliest days of the civil rights movement. He remembers vividly the day police recovered the body of Emmitt Till from the river near his home, Parker said. It was Aug. 31, 1955. Till, a black teenager visiting from Chicago, had been murdered three days before, and his death became a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

"For my father and people who were around during that time, the inauguration of an African-American president is something they never dreamed would happen," Parker said. "This will be a very special day for him."

Dozens of University of Dayton alumni say they'll be making the trek to the nation's capital for the historic occasion.  It will also be a special day for University of Dayton students gathering around the TV screen with activist and author Kevin Powell, who's keynoting the annual the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfast at 7:30 a.m. that morning in the Kennedy Union Ballroom. His talk? "Dr. King, Civil Rights, Hip Hop and Barack Obama."  Powell will join the students at 11:30 a.m. in the office of multicultural affairs in Gosiger Hall. Students, faculty and staff also will gather in the first-floor reference room in Roesch Library to watch the inauguration.

For more information, contact Cilla Shindell, director of media relations, at 937-229-3257 or shindell@udayton.edu.