Skipping School for Live Civics Lesson

Politically Active Youth Scramble to Watch History Unfold at Inauguration

"I really wanted to go" to the inauguration, said Myles Ambrose, 13, who started an online group to say so.
"I really wanted to go" to the inauguration, said Myles Ambrose, 13, who started an online group to say so. (By James M. Thresher for The Post)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 12, 2009; Page A01

As he researched charter bus tickets one day in late December, Ethan Plato said nothing could stop him from attending the inauguration. Not the classes he would miss. Not the hit his college budget would take. Not even the 570 miles between Washington and his school in Canada.

"There's no hesitation there at all," said the 18-year-old University of Ottawa freshman. "The way I see it is, I may miss three or four classes once in my first year, but this will be something I will remember forever."

Across the nation and beyond, students are going to great lengths to witness the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, showing that the energy and activism his campaign ignited even among those too young to vote has continued after the November election.

On Facebook, numerous groups have been formed by students planning road trips -- one from Jamaica -- and by those angry with class schedules that conflict with the Jan. 20 ceremony. At Harvard University, hundreds of undergraduates have signed an online petition asking administrators to allow students to make up exams scheduled that day. In Montgomery County, officials initially sought to go against a regional trend and keep schools open for the inauguration, but a student petition seeking to close schools drew more than 5,000 signatures.

"The thing that I thought was surprising was how many students were willing to do something else besides just talk about it," said Springbrook High government and politics teacher Elizabeth Kelley. "They weren't just interested in getting a day off, but they were truly interested in getting a day off to participate in one way or another. . . . I had two different students tell me that their parents were not going to let them take their exams because they were going to go to the inauguration."

The Student and Youth Travel Association, based in Michigan, which includes travel agents, tour operators and bus companies, estimates that as many as 500,000 students plan to attend the inauguration. That's five times the number who attended President Bush's second inauguration. Debbie Gibb, the association's associate executive director, said that one bus company recently reported that 30 of its 50 vehicles have been booked by student groups for this inauguration, compared with five in 2005.

Plato said he and 49 other students plan to do "a lot of sleeping on the bus." They will leave the night before the inauguration, arrive in Washington in the morning and head back to Canada that night. Still, it'll be worth it, said the teenager, who dragged a life-size cutout of Obama with him to the pub for the election.

"We really see this as an opportunity for the world to become a better place," Plato said.

In Montgomery, students countywide sent a loud, collective message that could not be ignored: They, too, wanted the chance to see history. Kelley's students started the Facebook group "Petition for NO SCHOOL Inauguration Day!," which drew about 2,000 members. At Albert Einstein High School, government teacher Steven Garfinkel's students, many of them children of immigrants, wrote letters to the governor's office.

Myles Ambrose, 13, an eighth-grader at Westland Middle School, formed a Facebook group called "Skrew School, im going to the inauguration."

"I really didn't care if it was a holiday or not. I really wanted to go to this," Myles said. He created the group a week after the election and before the Montgomery school board voted unanimously in early December to close schools Jan. 20.

Although he will still be too young to vote in 2012, Myles said he sometimes is frustrated by those who don't "realize the magnitude of this election." He has applied for a press pass to the event because he works on his school's television crew but said he is doubtful he will get one. Instead, he will likely seek to squeeze out a place on the Mall with his parents.

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