We began our tour of the museum with modern art by James Turrell. We entered the Wilson Tunnel and immediately recognized Turrell’s focus on light in his artwork.
But with limited time, we stuck with art since 1850, beginning with works by Monet, Van Gogh, and their contemporaries. We recognized how they used color and form to depict reality in a from alluding to abstraction.
Next, we learned about pointillism art which, somewhat similar to impressionism. Pointillism uses dots of different colors to create an image. We were able to appreciate a more developed form of abstract art with cubism. While pointillism uses color to create its image, cubism uses shapes. The different shapes and colors create different illusions, seemingly showing multiple perspectives simultaneously.
In the modern section, we saw works by Georgia O’Keefe, Alexander Calder, and Jackson Pollock.
Finally, we moved on to the special exhibit: the hyper-realistic work of Ron Mueck.
We found his work to be somewhat bizarre or, as Betty Moody might say, wonderfully weird and intriguing. Throughout the exhibit we found various sculptures with different meanings. For example, when you first see this piece…
…you expect to see a baby in the swaddling. But the title, “The Man in a Blanket,” hints that it is actually a middle-aged man, curled into the fetal position, perhaps hiding from life.
Mueck plays with scale, making sculptures either abnormally large or small. We see average sized people every day, and he gives us something out of the ordinary.
Perhaps most poignant is a young male, peering into a mirror at his reflection…
…with all the questions that young people have about themselves, their future, and the world around them.
He also did a self-portrait, which served as the exhibit centerpiece.
At the beginning of the exhibit, they warn visitors that some nudity is shown, and they weren’t lying! This piece, titled “Man in a Boat,” features a fully nude male, and captured the attention of some of our LEAPsters…
(The warnings were probably more directed at a subsequent piece not pictured here.)
Mueck also explores the idea of sacrifice, depicting a young African-American male as a victim of violence and a large fowl, hanged upside down in a variation on the crucifixion scene.
The final and largest sculpture was found at the end of the exhibit; it was a very large newborn baby girl. This work was one of the larger pieces, signifying the great blessing of a new born child.
When we completed viewing–and reflecting on–the exhibit, we returned the way we came. As before, we traversed Turrell’s tunnel, but it had changed colors…
…and this was appropriate, we thought, because we had changed, too.
With SHSU gearing up for finals, the LEAP students didn’t spend a full day in Austin, but with help from veteran LEAP Ambassadors, they made the most of the time they had.
Following a late night (blogs submitted at 1:38am), Megan Chapa, Staci Antu, and Jennifer Holton awoke early to manage visits to the TX Capitol and the LBJ Presidential Library.
Texas Capitol Building
The visit to the Capitol was immensely rewarding, beginning with a short tour, where we learned that the TX Capitol:
Is the sixth tallest capitol building in the US and is, in fact, larger than the US Capitol;
Is the largest in square footage (the extension alone is 670,000 feet);
has doors so heavy that 17.5 pound door hinges are required.
Of course, a highlight was the “whispering gallery” in the rotunda, where you can stand, speak, and hear your own instantaneous echo.
We also saw the old Texas Supreme Court building, a small room in the Capitol! It’s really no wonder they moved.
It wasn’t all fun and games. Christina Perez, intern for Rep. Jim Murphy, led us on a tour of the Capitol building, where we learned a lot and had some fun, too!
Part of the fun was visiting the offices of the interns with whom we shared dinner the night before. It was a great chance to see their work environment, learning more about how things work, and seeing their passion for their job.
Alex Galvan, Brian Aldaco (who showed off his fancy lobbyist-provided calculator), and Karla Rosales served as office guides.
Christina also took us to the House and Senate galleries, where we watched some of the action on the floor…
…and posed for photos…
…and even got a waiver on the “no-standing” rule for one photograph…
We’re not sure, but we think Megan’s repeated winking at the Marshal may have encouraged him to let us break the rules a bit.
Although it was a short visit, it was a nice counterpart to our previous evening’s stroll around the capitol grounds, and we really appreciate Christina and the other Austin Interns/LEAP Ambassadors providing support of our tour. Although Megan was a veteran of the state capitol and Staci had visited previously, it was Jennifer’s first time, and a great way to experience her first visit to the Texas Legislature.
LBJ Presidential Library
Again, Megan was a veteran of the LBJ Presidential Library, and Presidential Libraries in general–she’s been to four–but it was Staci and Jennifer’s first time in a presidential library. It’s a lot more fun than it sounds!
We began by watching an eleven-minute overview of LBJ’s life…
…got a good taste of the Johnson Treatment…
…saw some Johnson Humor…
…and generally enjoyed the exhibits.
The most substantive areas, however, were the exhibits on legislation that Johnson passed, and there was much to see! Obviously, Civil Rights is Johnson’s most impressive legacy…
…and this area was the highlight of the Museum.
Or perhaps the most impressive aspect was being able to see how much he was able to accomplish in only five years, while also seeing the history that transpired during his life–from the advent of flight, WWI and WWII, the Civil Rights movement, and the moon landing. It was a great way to learn not only about LBJ, but also about the 20th century.
It was also a beautiful day in Austin. To cap off the day, our trip, and interactions with some truly wonderful people–from Jeff Guinn and Stephen Harrigan to the Austin Interns–we captured some of Austin’s beauty and one of its most notable landmarks in a farewell photo outside of the Library.
As Sam Houston State University students are wrapping up their semesters, LEAP Center students set out for another new adventure in Austin, TX. Bestselling author and award-winning investigative journalist, Jeff Guinn, reached the tail-end of his book tour featuring his new book, The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, in Austin. The three-hour drive to attend his book signing at Book People was a special treat for us, a mix of history, story-telling, literature, and politics. With this in mind, we hit the road knowing the evening would be exciting and informative.
The trip to the Austin was swift and filled with great conversation. Staci, Jennifer and I, all strangers, quickly got acquainted with one another during the ride. I, being the LEAP Veteran, shared my experiences with the LEAP Center and my previous encounter with Guinn when he came to SHSU last year, hoping to increase anticipation for the two others—and it worked!
Guinn had generously agreed to meet with us and a few Austin interns at Whole Foods prior to his book talk.
He also gave us insight into the publishing process and the financial side of things. Clara Herrera, a colleague of Mr. Guinn’s, joined us as well and briefly shared her experience as a journalist. As always, Guinn’s stories were intriguing and we were hooked! Before we knew it, it was time for Mr. Guinn to head over to Book People to make his author appearance.
Stephen Harrigan, author for a famous historical novel The Gates of the Alamo and A Friend of Mr. Lincoln (among others), facilitated the Q&A interview. For us, it was a two-for-one treat.
The interview began with the discussion of the early life of Jim Jones, who grew up in Indianapolis and was eventually the leader of the Peoples Temple. One of the interesting things Mr. Guinn talked about was how Jones sold monkeys door to door to financially operate his temple.
After learning about Jones’s childhood, one of LEAP members, Brian, was chosen as a volunteer to demonstrate how Jones preached to his followers.
For example, Jones would tell one of the audience members (actually, a confederate) that they were going to get cancer, and he would drop chicken guts into their mouth when no one was paying attention.
Eventually the person would throw up and “get rid” of the disease being “healed” by Jones himself. Guinn played the role of Jones, Brian was the faithful assistant, and Staci was a member of the Peoples Temple. This was a demonstration of how Jones manipulated his followers into maintaining their loyalty to him.
After the interview, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions and get their books signed.
Following the book signing, we departed Book People and headed to a local Indian restaurant called The Clay Pit. Jennifer and Staci had never eaten Indian food, and were therefore forced to venture from their comfort zones. While enjoying authentic Indian dishes such as tikka masala, goat curry, and vindaloo, we conversed over the day’s events, highlighting our favorite parts. My favorite part was the book signing because we got special insight into the life of Jim Jones.
After dinner, we walked a few blocks from The Clay Pit to the Texas Capitol to see its after-hours beauty. After posing for a few pictures in front of the Capitol building…
…we explored the buildings extension and Austin’s historic Main Street. This short sneak peak into Thursday’s adventures made us excited for the next day ahead of us.
One special note: Although we were caught up in the history of Guinn’s narrative and his story’s about his career, we also noted his generosity. He was generous for meeting with us, but he also showed the same generosity to his co-host, Stephen Harrigan, calling him one of the 2-3 best writers in the state of Texas. He also complimented his friend, Clara Herrera, noting that she was one of the talented young writers currently doing good work. It wasn’t false praise, but with a big book signing ahead of him, it would have been easy for him to focus on that. Instead, he thoughtfully took time to share the spotlight with others.
For the past seven years LEAP students have been honored to receive the Tenth Court of Appeals at Sam Houston State University. The normal schedule is to bring in the 10th Court on the first Wednesday in April, and this year was no different.
Three oral arguments were heard in the Beto Criminal Justice Center’s Hazel B. Kerper Courtroom.
As part of our duties as LEAP Ambassadors, we divided ourselves and rotated, with some working while others watched the case. Among the audience was Dr. Veasey, a professor at SHSU as well as an attorney and a doctor! LEAP students were astonished to meet someone with such a wide-ranging resume including: being a prosecutor, a medical examiner, a flight surgeon, a defense attorney, and a medical investigator for military plane crashes. The justices actually let Dr. Veasey and his graduate forensic pathologist students sit in the jury box.
Of the three oral arguments, the last one (Kenny Jones v. NRG Texas, LLC.), captured my attention the most. The case involved a dispute over an alleged retaliatory termination as well as whether the correct company had been sued. As a current student of the Human Resources Management Law class, I was pleased with the Tenth Court of Appeals’ selection of this oral argument. To be able to take the knowledge I have gained in the classroom and to experience it the “real world” was a thrilling experience!
On top of that, the oral argument also sparked a particular interest because Chief Justice Gray recused himself from the case; meaning that he abstained from reviewing the oral argument because of a possible conflict of interest. He provided a brief overview of the recusal process, which involves filing a motion of recusal to the Texas Supreme Court. Next, it becomes the Texas Supreme Court’s job to appoint another person to take that seat. In this case, the District Court Justice, Fancy Jezek from Bell County, was appointed.
After covering the recusal process, Chief Justice Gray was kind enough to ask both attorneys to turn to the audience and to briefly explain the path the case had taken prior to arriving at the Court of Appeals.
Knowing the background information of the case allowed us to better understand the oral arguments both attorneys made. Each party had approximately 20 minutes of argument time and, as we learned, the Appellant who presents the argument first, also receives five minutes for rebuttal after the Appellee has concluded his argument. During the last five minutes, the Appellant’s purpose is to counterclaim the argument(s) delivered by the other attorney. After the oral arguments had concluded, Chief Justice Gray made himself available for any questions the audience might have…
…although, as some audience members mentioned, he had already done an excellent job at covering most of them himself.
As a final touch, we, as part of the LEAP center, had the privilege to take some photos with, not three, but four Justices!
We were also fortunate to have lunch with the Justices. While helping ourselves to delicious sandwiches, salad, and cookies, we were able to have one-on-one conversations with the justices and their staff.
Some of us asked questions about where they went to law school and what their average day looks like, while others were able to share small-world similarities with them. After a hurried lunch, it was back to business!
Once the justices were finished hearing cases for the day, we enjoyed a small reception hosted by the President of the University, Dana Hoyt. While snacking on cheese, fruit, and drinks, we were able to have intimate conversations with the justices, as well as some of the most important members of the University and community. In attendance were Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Richard Eglsaer, Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Parker, Dean of the College of Criminal Justice Dr. Phillip Lyons, Former Huntsville Mayor Mac Woodward, and more. It was a great way to end an even better day.
The Austin internship program helps to develop hard working individuals by allowing them to take on real-life work experience. As the Legislative Session starts to gear up, the Sam Houston Austin Interns have begun to take on more responsibilities in their offices. From picking up constituent phone calls, to attending committees on bills that will affect all Texans’ lives, the intern agenda is booked all day, and sometimes all evenings, too.
As for my internship, I work for Representative Jim Murphy of District 133. The district encompasses the West Houston suburbs. Representative Murphy’s background as a businessman provides him with a good background for his career in “the ledge”–as many legislative veterans refer to the capitol. His tenure has provided additional expertise in the legislature, and this session marks the fifth for Representative Murphy.
Working in his office has been fulfilling. In our office, our camaraderie as “TEAM MURPHY” unites us in working together to accomplish every task and keeping a high morale to succeed in every task. No job is too big or too little for any of us. With our mantra of” Work harder!” passed down through sessions from other staff members, our mission is to do as much as we can to serve the constituents of District 133. Some of the other students in my office include Dominique Hawkins from A&M University, Troy Allen from The University of Houston (Hobby Fellow), and Ashwanti Pattel from The University of Texas.
As for my office responsibilities, I am in charge of Representative Murphy’s scheduling, making sure he is where he needs to be when he needs to be there. Additionally, I work with constituents and lobbyists both in person and on the phone. This ensures that our district is represented correctly as everyone’s voice is heard. And even though scheduling takes up a lot of my day, I still find the time to work on legislation.
But with hard work comes rewarding fun. The Texas Capitol is filled with exciting day to day activities. From real-life rattle snake exhibitions…
…to Legislator-football games, there is always something to be a part of. After our week in Austin, LEAP Ambassadors and fellow Austin Interns Brian Aldaco and Kaitlyn Tyra, joined me in exploring some of Austin’s hipster treasures.
That Friday afternoon, we changed from suits to our causal garb and decided to start our adventure by visiting Treaty Oak Square. As weird as it may be to commemorate an oak tree in the middle of the city, this particular tree has had its roots grounded in Austin soil since before Columbus’ discovery of North America. In other words, the oak tree in Treaty Oak Square is over 500 years old! Needless to say, the oak tree has witnessed countless events in Texas history. Among them was the birth of the city of Austin. Stephen F. Austin signed a boundary treaty under the branches of the tree. The treaty was between his settlers, the Tehama, and the Comanche, allowing for a peaceful settlement for future Texans to come. Now the tree is fenced in and protected by the City of Austin. As the branches hang at over 127 feet of length, it was hard to take a good photo. But you don’t come across someone that old too often so we decided that it was worth the try to take a selfie.
From Treaty Oak, we continued on our trek and after a 2 mile walk we finally reached Zilker park. Zilker park is a prime urban park for jogging, biking, and music festivals. Additionally, it is a great place to see the skyline of Austin.
Under the city lights and an exceptionally bright moon, we decided it was a perfect place to play some frisbee. After getting a good workout, we decided it was time for some food.
As any one knows, you are not an Austin resident if you don’t food-truck-dine at least once a week.
From Zilker park there are multiple food truck parks. So it was only a matter of hungry seconds before we found one. Dawa Sushi, a sushi truck owned by a very nice couple off of Barton Springs Rd, was just what we needed. With delicious sushi, (the greatest in Austin if you ask me), we agreed we would definitely revisit. After gulping down our last tempura roll, we hiked up Congress and back to the Capitol Garage. Our 6 mile tour had ended successfully as we had visited some of the places that make Austin, well Austin. But more is left to see of this town, and yet more do I anticipate to enjoy from the rest of my Legislative adventure as an Austin Intern.
After attending the inauguration of our new President, we awoke with anticipation to learn more about a few of our past presidents on this last leg of our Inaugural Trip. We departed toward visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate. Upon arrival, we were surprised by the intensity of Washington’s plantation at a massive 500 acres. Not only was the property large but also beautiful as it overlooked the Potomac River.
Included in this grand estate is Washington’s mansion, Colonial-era slave quarters, gardens that are still worked by the museum’s staff, the gravesite of George and Martha Washington and extended family, a slave memorial, nature trails, a pioneer farm, multiple gift shops, a museum, and more. Visitors could easily spend a whole day or more exploring the property, and as a popular tourist destination, more than 80 million people have visited Mount Vernon to learn about one of our nation’s Founding Fathers.
Our tour started with a short movie introduction of the grounds and spaces available to explore. The staff are sticklers for tour times, in a sense, so we explored the Upper Garden, the slave quarters, a variety of workshops occupied by Washington’s slaves, and his grave…
…before entering the line for the tour of the mansion. The docent pointed out how Washington completed multiple revisions and expansions to his home throughout his life. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the home as photography may interfere with the home’s preservation.
Excited either way about visiting Washington’s beloved home, we entered into the “newest” addition of the mansion. This was a large room that would have been used for dancing, hosting dinners, and impressing guests. An extraordinary detail of the room was its uniquely green color. At the time, green paint was a sign of wealth because it required the crushing of precious gems to obtain that deep of a color. We moved into the oldest part of the home next where we saw four rooms including a more informal dining room, a study, and two guest rooms. We also learned about Washington’s parties and saw several of the nine guest rooms available for visitors.
Our favorite part of Washington’s home was the private wing, including George and Martha’s bedroom, where George Washington passed away from a throat infection. Their room was less extravagant than expected—no lavish furniture was present—but it helped to illustrate Washington’s personal taste. The room was large enough for a sitting area along with the bed.
After touring the mansion, we walked down to pay reverence to our nation’s first president by visiting the Washington’s gravesite. Enclosed in a concrete monument, George and Martha Washington are buried only a short walk from where they lived for many years. Close by is also a slave memorial in honor of Washington’s slaves. Although Washington owned slaves, he included his slaves in his will and left them the majority of his fortune. This was an unusual practice for slave owners in Washington’s time.
James Monroe’s Highland
Finishing up our tour at Mount Vernon, we stopped for a quick picture before departing to our last stop of the Inaugural Trip.
The end of the trip was near, but we decided to add in one last stop on our presidential tour by visiting the home of our fifth president. James Monroe’s Highland—also formerly known as Ashlawn-Highland—is located outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. James Monroe was a Revolutionary soldier who eventually became president in 1816 after negotiating the deal that provided for the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Interestingly enough, some recent archeological research including ring-dating several interior parts of the home, archeologists have found pieces of chimney, stone wall foundation, and much more, that proved that the house where President Monroe had once lived burned down in the 1800s. They have outlined the location of the original home in rock on the grounds, just in front of the current Ashlawn building.
So, our tour began at the door of a small white house.
The ceiling was extremely low and required the taller LEAP Ambassadors to duck. Although it would have been a guest house at the time, it is now set up with various pieces of Monroe family furniture. We entered a room set up as a study, filled with Monroe’s original furniture, including an impressive desk. Another interesting piece in the study was a French clock that was over two hundred years old, but still ticking away the correct time. The study was green, a seemingly common color among those with the means to afford it, much as we had seen at our last stop, Mount Vernon.
As we made our way through the home we could see many original family pieces such as the dining room table, a crib, and several beds. In one room, there was a small mannequin sporting a simple but elegant pink dress. Our tour guide explained to us that Elizabeth Monroe was a small woman, only measuring about 4’11’’.
We exited through the family museum, displaying original china, jewelry, and photographs that belong to the Monroe family. Perhaps the greatest highlight in this room was a very humble bust of Napoleon Bonaparte. Apparently, Monroe had attended a party in honor of the Emperor where upon busts of Napoleon were given as party favors, to all guests.
Visiting the home of the last Revolutionary-era president made for an appropriate conclusion to our Inaugural Trip. After visiting the site where our Declaration of Independence was drafted, our first government was debated over, and our nation’s constitution was signed; after visiting the home of our nation’s first president; and after attending the inauguration of our newest president, we felt a sense of civic pride. With this accomplishment forever in our memories, we boarded our airplane en route to Houston, reminiscing of our week’s adventure all the way.
The LEAP Ambassadors are a bi-partisan organization. The students who attended this inauguration signed up prior to knowing who would win the election, and the trip-goers included Trump supporters, Clinton supporters, and third-party supporters. They attended not in support of any specific candidate, but to see part of US History unfold.
At the Mall
Over the years the LEAP Center has offered LEAP Ambassadors opportunities to contribute to their community through volunteering on campaigns. Regardless of the political party, the contested position, or the level of government, when “your” candidate wins, that feeling of joy is incomparable. During our 45th President’s Inaugural Address, Washington, D.C. was alive with Americans from all walks of life who were largely motivated by their ardent support of Donald Trump. While such sentiments didn’t necessarily extend to all of the Ambassadors, we were happy to be part of this historic event.
Even though our adventures began around 4:00a.m., the excitement kept us awake. We had heard the horror stories of previous Inaugurations, like Metro trains packed like sardines, so when we rode the Metro into the city we were surprised that we had seats. Once in D.C., we found our gate was already packed and so began the wait with the crowd. As soon as the gates opened, the crowd began to move and took us with them into our ticketed area.
As it was dark when we arrived, we were thankful the luminous Capitol provided sufficient light to find a good standing spot. Of course, it was cold, about 38 degrees, and it was also raining intermittently. We also noted that the students who didn’t vote for Trump thought it was colder and rainier than the students who did vote for Trump.
Fortunately, it was not too long before the sun rose, and with it a breathtaking sunrise over the Capitol that made our sleep deprivation worth it.
And, in reality, we were all happy to be part of this experience.
Around 10:30a.m. the music began, and the emcee began to introduce the platform dignitaries: Supreme Court Justices, current U.S. legislators, our nation’s past presidents. When former president Bill Clinton and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton were introduced, a hush fell over the crowd momentarily before a polite applause began. Moments later, however, when a close-up of the couple came on the jumbotron, booing began.
After the Clintons came George W. Bush and Laura Bush, but the excitement truly began when First Ladies Michelle Obama and soon-to-be Melania Trump were announced. President Obama and Vice-President Biden were also given polite applause.
The crowd got even louder when Vice President Mike Pence took his oath of office, given by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
But when our 45th president, Donald John Trump, was ready to be sworn in a roar of cheer resonated from every corner of the Mall.
With applause, chants, and one or two disrupting shouts from protestors, we watched as our new President delivered his inaugural speech. “This, the United States of America, is your country,” were among his opening comments, and nearly every syllable carried cheers as the crowd roared with excitement.
Focusing on topics such as education, funding, the American dream, and a government ruled by the people, his words were felt so warmly in the hearts of supporters that fatigue, cold, and rain were overlooked.
The speech, although short, provided comfort for President Trump’s followers as they were assured that the next four years are going to be of prosperity and unity.
Others, however, were less than assured. One protester screamed as though she were being tortured when Trump’s speech began. Another blew an alarm whistle, perhaps trying to start a panic.
What we didn’t know, was that outside the inauguration’s perimeter, even more dangerous actions were unfolding. Many protesters were peaceful, but some threw bricks and concrete; others began fires.
The LEAP ambassadors were fortunate to avoid these dangers, and remain safe within the inaugural gates.
The end of the President Trump’s speech also brought about President Obama’s exit from the presidency. As other presidents have done, Obama flew away in Executive One, the presidential helicopter.
The entire experience was unforgettable. Part of the LEAP concept is experiential learning, and the experiences we had today will stay with us forever.
A Reunion Dinner
With so many hours of standing around after a very early start to the morning, the Ambassadors welcomed a power nap before dinner. Once we recharged, we made our way to Raaga for some Indian food, and a mini-reunion of sorts.
Through the course of LEAP’s history, also previously known as the Junior Fellows, the program has had high-achieving students, many of whom had attended President Obama’s 2009 or 2013 inauguration with the LEAP Center. Some of these alumni have gone off to work in federal agencies, for state or D.C. legislators, and other rewarding jobs in the U.S. capital. During our dinner, we met with some of these alumni and friends:
Ademide Adedokun graduated in 2008 and now has a civilian position at the Coast Guard, where she focuses on building relationships with foreign dignitaries.
Justin Veillon is now a Senior Manager with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Christian Bionat is now a district staffer for Congressman Pete Olson.
Joycelyn Ovalle graduated from the Texas A&M Bush School of Government and Public Service eight months ago and is now working in D.C., conducting research and analysis on tax policy.
Jazmin Perez is now interning for Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
We were also joined by Nancy Bocskor, an advocate of womens’ involvement in politics in foreign countries, who has also been a LEAP-sponsored guest speaker at events at Sam Houston State University.
Along with a savory dinner of lamb and chicken korma, rogan josh, various curry dishes, naan breads, and other spicy Indian treats, we had a very engaging conversation about career paths with these former SHSU students and LEAP alumni on how they got to where they are now. For us, this interaction was fulfilling because it showed us how taking opportunities and becoming dedicated at what you work on can truly lead to some rewarding professions. After such a momentous day, and a most enjoyable dinner, we said goodbye to our fellow Bearkats and new friends, ready to get some much needed rest.
As the time to greet our new president arrived, the LEAP Ambassadors likewise neared their “D.C. destination.” But before braving overwhelming Inauguration crowds at the Capitol, the Ambassadors enjoyed quiet visits to two other states, specifically the statehouse where our nation first declared independence and the statehouse where George Washington did not reign, but did once resign.
Delaware’s State Houses
The first item on the agenda today was a visit to the Delaware State Capitol, known locally as Legislative Hall, and the old statehouse where the state legislature used to meet. We began with a tour of the statehouse provided by a most enthusiastic tour guide, Mr. Thomas Welch. Interestingly, the retired docent has been giving tours since the building was re-opened to the public in 2007. He explained in great detail the history of how Delaware broke away from Pennsylvania, use of the old capital by both state and county governments, and the history of many of the delegates who served in the earliest years of Delaware’s statehood. The building itself was initially used both as a county courthouse (on the first floor)…
and the House and Senate chambers of the state legislature (on the upper level). In the first few years of their statehood, Delaware had only nine state Senators…
…and twenty-one Representatives…
…one of whom, Allen McLane, Mr. Welch has gone on to learn about extensively, including lecturing statewide and writing McLane’s biography.
The newer capitol building in use is much larger, though not the most opulent of the state capitols LEAPsters have visited.
The building has undergone renovations since its original construction, with many of the windows in both House and Senate chambers once on exterior walls now blocked by new interior walls. To make the space more aesthetically pleasing, the Legislature hired Jack Lewis, a famous Delaware artist, to paint murals in the frames of the removed windows. The murals depict the history of and many famous people from Delaware, such as local hero Caesar Rodney.
After roaming the small building after our tour, and running into a committee hearing on marijuana legislation…
…and playing “Speaker of the House…”
…we made it back to our mini-van to meander through Maryland.
Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs
Our day continued with a detour to Annapolis, Maryland. We were on the hunt for Baltimore’s crab cakes, but the siren song of still another capitol was hard to overcome. We crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and headed instead for Annapolis, MD, where we weaved through cobblestone streets on the search for some authentic East Coast seafood. After consulting with an Annapolis local, we decided on Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs. According to our new Maryland friend it was a classic, which meant it had to be good! We indulged in a variety of dishes including the Seafood Gumbo and the Rockfish Annapolis (rockfish covered with a creamy crab sauce served over a bed of rice). We enjoyed eating “local,” the hot lunch welcome on another chilly day.
Maryland’s State House
A short walk to the Capitol building allowed us to embark on a short, self-guided tour of the Georgian-style building.
After visiting the Delaware capitol in Dover that morning, the Maryland capitol in Annapolis was grand in comparison. Immediately upon entering, the House and Senate chambers greeted guests on opposite sides. Black and white tile lined the halls and led visitors to each room throughout the first floor. We learned that the Maryland General Assembly has 47 Senators…
….and 141 Delegates in the House of Delegates.
Further back in the Capitol is the Old State House and the Old State Senate which explained the rich and interesting history associated with Maryland. In the Senate chambers, George Washington gave his resignation speech on December 23, 1783. He felt that his job leading the country was complete and that it was time to return home to his wife Martha. Today a bronze life-sized statue of Washington stands in the place he spoke some 234 years ago.
The self-guided tour also included the original paper copy of George Washington’s resignation speech. Our time in Annapolis was short and enjoyable, but we were eager for our main destination, the Capitol of the United States of America.
As we hurried past Maryland’s forested hills, our surroundings changed from a rural landscape to the hustle and bustle of the DC streets, with much accompanying honking. Even though the streets of our nation’s capital are always busy, on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration, even the narrow alleys seemed as if they would burst with cars and pedestrians. In this ocean of tourists from all over the nation and world, the LEAP Ambassadors wrestled their way towards the Washington Monument.
At the foot of this near pearl-colored obelisk, the immensity of the monument forced us to strain our necks in order to gaze at its glory from bottom to peak. While admiring this great American treasure, Kaitlyn wondered whether we could reach the top. Disappointed by the Monument’s temporary closure for maintenance, this crafty Ambassador chose to reach the peak from the ground with the tip of her fingers.
After a few pictures, we noticed–and then joined–crowds of excited Trump supporters…
…on their procession towards the Lincoln Memorial.
As we neared the memorial the multitude of red “Make America Great Again” hat wearers grew to the point that we could move no closer to the concert stage set up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
There we stood listening to excited “USA!” and “Trump!” shouts echoing from every corner of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
At one point it was announced that President-Elect Donald Trump was present on stage and the crowd roared with animation.
Such a spirit was so contagious for some of the LEAP Ambassadors that they could not resist another temptation–souvenir vendors. Several bought Trump merchandise to forever remember the 2017 Inauguration eve. A couple in the group actually voted for Trump; others just wanted a souvenir (without Trump’s image) to document their presence at a historic event.
With a bag full of red hats and Trump pins, we left DC to catch only a few of hours of sleep, but not before some extremely rural looking individuals walking through the National Mall. Of course, the media converged on them, and soon began an interview:
Spanning several stops through Delaware and Maryland, and still feeling the fatigue of Philly, we would need as much rest as we could get before embarking on our presidential adventure at the crack of dawn (or as some would argue, before then).
The LEAP Ambassadors are a bi-partisan group. The students signed up for this trip before knowing who would win, and Trump, Clinton, and third-party supporters attended this trip to be part of this historic event. It is the fourth presidential inauguration the LEAP Ambassadors have attended.