The syllabus for Professor Russell Ford’s January Term class, Presidential Politics and Ethics, said nothing about witnessing history. And yet there were Ford and his students amid the excited crowds lining the National Mall on January 20, 2009, for the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the United States.
The trip to Washington had long been part of the class plan. Ford’s students were among hundreds from around the country participating in the Washington Center Seminars on media and politics, which featured sessions in the nation’s capital with Ted Koppel, Sam Donaldson, and other veterans of the Washington scene. The chance to attend the inauguration, though, came as a last-minute surprise.
The group was at O’Hare International Airport getting ready to board their ﬂight to Washington when they learned that Representative Peter Roskam—a Republican whose district includes Elmhurst—had come through with some much-sought-after tickets to the inauguration. The news sparked a celebration that Ford found gratifying. “This is why I teach, to see students get so excited about an opportunity like this,” he said. “Their eyes just lit up. Then they started making phone calls, of course.”
Ford and his students watched the inauguration from a vantage point about a hundred yards from the stage outside the Capitol. All around the group, he recalled, spontaneous chants kept sweeping through the crowd: “Yes we can” and “Yes we did.” The atmosphere combined the high spirits of a celebration with the signiﬁcance of history in the making.
Ford and his students were not the only repre-sentatives of the College at the Obama inaugural. President S. Alan Ray and his wife Angela attended, as did two of his direct reports, Chaplain Scott Matheney and Ken Bartels, who was instrumental in securing the students’ tickets.
Ray recalled the cheer that went up just after noon, when the new president was sworn in. “Listening to more than a million people applauding and voicing their support at that moment, under a clear sky in the January cold, was something Angela and I will never forget,” he said.
Ford hopes the experience stays with his students as well. “I told them to save that ticket, to frame it. They were making memories which they’ll carry with them forever, and which will have a profound impact on them.”