Kentucky Students Catch the Inaugural Spirit

By Amelia Newcomb writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

Kentucky Students Catch the Inaugural Spirit


Amelia Newcomb writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


To David Heyburn, the inauguration of George W. Bush was a moment he could witness with a certain empathy.

The senior at Ballard High School in Louisville, Ky., won the top spot in his class election - but not on the first vote. That yielded a tie. Three recounts later, it was still a tie.

But unlike Florida, the school acted quickly. A revote was ordered, and the lanky senior ended up winning by a chad-thin margin. "It was nerve-racking, and I just had one day to wait," Mr. Heyburn said as he stood in line to get past a security guard and onto the Washington Mall.

Heyburn and classmates braved the drizzle on this raw day in January to witness the finale of one of the most bizarre - and intriguing - elections in American history. In recent months, many Ballard students, and others across the nation, became riveted spectators of the political game. They witnessed the truly unusual - like friends chatting about dimpled ballots the way they might about the senior prom. And now, as they moved toward a bunting- swathed Capitol, they were party to that most regal of American political traditions - as well as a spine-tingling variety of political experience.

"It's so American," said Laura Van Hoose, a senior, shaking her head as she and her peers angled for a good viewing spot without sinking into the muddy ground. "I think I'm going to cry."

It's not a typical reaction for members of a generation reputed to live on the Internet and who often rank politics dead last as a career choice. But for these 43 students, watching Mr. Bush take his oath put the crowning touches on an election many knew intimately - and which had even inspired some to start calculating their own prospects for the campaign trail.

It didn't seem to matter that they had been up before dawn to catch a plane from Kentucky, or that they faced standing for hours in the mist and cold. Or that their impressive gold tickets admitted them with mere thousands of others to a spot from which Bush looked like a speck of dust, even through at-the-ready binoculars.

This, after all, was history in the making. At the convocation, maroon Ballard hats came off. Later, cheers went up for students from a neighboring Louisville high school who sang "America the Beautiful." Ears tilted attentively to hear the new president. Many of the students had supported Bush, even though Ballard gave Al Gore the nod by 20 votes in a mock election.

For senior Rodney Todd, watching Bush seemed like a natural outcome. "I knew Bush was going to win," he said confidently. "I supported Bush because he seemed like he knew what he wanted."

That wasn't the case for everyone. "I didn't think Bush knew what he was talking about," Stacey Hohl said firmly. "He just looked - confused."

Those who didn't support Bush were nonetheless sanguine about the future - especially after getting a look at it up close and personal on Inauguration Day.

"My candidate was Clinton," said Kasie Wheeler, laughing. …

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