WASHINGTON, D.C. – The scene around the swearing-in of Donald Trump as the country’s 45th president was cold, rainy and, even two months after the election, noticeably polarized.
But not everyone at the National Mall was experiencing the moment overwhelmed with the partisan baggage of the last two decades.
“I’m just excited to be here, just for the experience,” said Jonathan Arreola, an 11th grader who said he would have voted for Hillary Clinton if he had been old enough to vote.
Arreola was part of a group from the School of Science and Technology in San Antonio in town for the inauguration. Several of the other Texas students concurred with him: They probably would not have voted for Trump either.
But there was not a whiff of political disgust among these kids. They were just flat excited to witness the peaceful transfer of power in person.
Social studies teacher Mary Lutka began organizing the trip over a year ago, back when it was difficult for many to believe Trump had a shot at the presidency. She and her fellow teachers and the students raised money by soliciting donations, participating in rummage sales and selling candy, water bottles and crafts.
“We’re a Title I school, so most of our kids can’t really afford trips like this,” said Kaitlyn Martinez, one of the other teacher-chaperones. “And so I don’t think it would have been possible without the fundraising efforts.”
Throughout the months of fundraising, Arreola, the 11th grader, said he always considered it a possibility that he would end up watching Trump sworn in on their big trip. In fact, it was the fundraising process that gave these kids – several of whom donot remember the George W. Bush administration – a keener political insight than many of the most informed political insiders.
Martinez recalled the group’s frequent weekend trips to nearby Helotes to sell their wares.
“When we were at the farmers’ markets – Helotes is a pretty rural area – the kids met a lot of Trump supporters out there,” said Martinez. “But Trump supporters – and [those who didn’t support Trump] generally supported and donated.”
Sarahi Rivas is a 15-year-old sophomore who dreams of being the first Latina president of the United States. She made and sold acrylic paintings to pay for her trip. She was a Bernie Sanders supporter during the Democratic primaries, but eventually rooted for Clinton in the general election.
“Admittedly, I was upset at first, especially coming from a Mexican background,” she said of Trump’s win. “So in a way, I do feel bad.”
“But at the same time, this is such an amazing thing, being here and being able to see everything,” she said. “And just the experience of it all, even if it is Donald Trump. It’s so amazing.”
Eduardo Loo was a senior with the group, but he recently changed schools after moving to Pflugerville. Though he cast his first-ever ballot for Clinton last fall, he found the inauguration of the man who defeated her to be a great experience.
“I honestly thought it was going to be more hostile, but maybe me not being as public as to who I stand for is making it more calm,” he said. “And I see a lot of smiling people.”