Despite 1.9 million people squeezed together for hours in freezing weather on Inauguration Day, Tuesday, January 20, City High School senior Britany Benson said “everyone was in such good spirits…people of all ages and backgrounds, across the board—it didn’t matter. We all felt united.”
Britany and her classmate Bernard Schaefer II were part of that excited throng packed in front of the United States Capitol to watch former Senator Barack Obama place his hand on the Lincoln Bible. They needed to jump a fence to get close enough, but they heard the words that made Barack Obama the 44th President—and the first African-American.
The Wege Foundation sponsored the two high school seniors for the Inauguration, accompanied by the Foundation’s senior staff members Ellen Satterlee and Terri McCarthy. Mark VanPutten, an environmental consultant to the Foundation who lives in the Washington area, made arrangements for the four Grand Rapids visitors. Van Putten, named to one of President Obama’s environmental transition teams, rounded up tickets to the Inauguration, the Midwest Ball, and a meeting with Governor Jennifer Granholm complete with a picture of Britany and Bernard with the Michigan governor.
Besides the Inauguration itself, it was the students’ luncheon seminar with some of the nation’s leading environmentalists that had the most impact.
“Before I went to Washington,” Bernard Schaefer said, “I wanted to be a patent lawyer and maybe go to engineering school.” But after he heard national environmental figures like Jerome Ringo and Van Jones speak with such eloquence, Bernard changed his future on the spot. “They were so passionate about what they are doing.
“Now I want to be an environmental lawyer,” Bernard says with clear commitment. And not surprisingly, since his escort and friend Mark Van Putten teaches a class in that very subject at the University of Michigan, Bernard has his sights set on law school in Ann Arbor after either Michigan or Michigan State undergraduate school.
Britany Benson loves design, and she’s considering both architecture and becoming a clothes designer. But one thing for sure after her three days of Inauguration events, whatever she chooses, her career will be focused on preserving and protecting the environment.
Britany and Bernard spoke about the pride that all African-Americans, like themselves, expressed and celebrated together on Inauguration Day. Both of them knew from their grandparents the pain and suffering of racism. They fully understood the monumental significance of watching the son of a native Kenyan become the most powerful leader in the world.
They also understood how lucky they were to be part of that moment in history.
The above photo shows seniors Bernard and Britany poseing with Michigan’s Governor Jennifer Granholm at a Washington D.C. reception during Inauguration week.