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We are made for this moment’

Megan Doyle | Monday, January 21, 2013

WASHINGTON – On Monday morning, most Notre Dame students in South Bend woke up and went to class on campus.

On Monday morning, another group of Notre Dame students woke up and, instead of trudging through the snow to class or the dining hall, stood in front of the U.S. Capitol Building to watch President Barack Obama publicly swear his oath of office to begin his second term. These students are members of the University’s Washington Program, a semester-long experience working, studying and living in Washington, D.C.

Junior Wendy Hatch spent her morning in the crowd, squinting at the small figures in the distance on the steps of the Capitol. But as she pursues her goals in politics, she might not be so far from those steps during inaugurations to come.

“In four years, we could be one of those people sitting in one of those chairs … next to President Obama,” Hatch said. “We could be senators, representatives, in Congress, in someone’s cabinet. We’re smart, we’re capable. If we wanted that position, if we wanted to be that person, we could be.”

The alternative study abroad program thrusts students with interest in politics or journalism into the heart of current affairs in the nation’s capital.

As Obama resumes his work in the Oval Office, Hatch said she appreciated the message of bipartisan cooperation she heard in his inaugural address. She has studied the ideological divide of the past Congress, she said, and his words were perhaps a reminder of what the country needs most right now.

“This is the mantra of Congress right now, that we need to come together,” Hatch said. “I really believe that is incredibly true.”

Junior Mia Counts, who stood with Hatch in the crowd, said she felt Obama’s inaugural speech was “timely,” as he addressed a range of issues like immigration, gay rights and education.

“I thought it was very appropriate and the fact that he addressed issues that we all need to work on … they’re not Democrat or Republican issues,” she said. “They’re American issues.”

Before Counts was born, her grandmother immigrated to the United States from Mexico to earn her college degree. Her family history has prompted her to follow issues like immigration closely, she said, and she hopes to see Obama address that debate seriously in his second term.

So when she heard the inaugural address Monday, she said she hopes the president’s words would motivate all members of Congress and government to work together for action on immigration and education.

“I thought it was something that isn’t always easy to hear, that maybe we aren’t doing the best job at communicating and talking to each other and doing the things we should be doing,” she said. “So it’s a good wake-up call.”

Junior Brian Vogt stepped onto the National Mall for the inauguration ceremony as a minority in the crowd during – in the midst of “Obama” chants, he said he was a voter who had not cast his ballot for the president in November.

“As someone who didn’t vote for President Obama, it reassures me when you can hear in his voice how seriously he takes his office,” Vogt said. “He’s still the president of the United States, so I support him 100 percent. Maybe I disagree with his politics, but I support him.”

No matter the party allegiances of those in the crowd, Vogt said the whole experience felt “uniting.”

“It’s nice to see for once the politicians to take a moment, to recognize how special it is what they do and not just be all about [partisanship,]” he said.

Vogt said he was impressed with Obama’s repetition of the phrase “We the people” throughout his inaugural address.

“When you’re little, you think government is this big thing out there,” he said. “But [the government] is exactly what we are, what we want. … There’s nothing America can’t accomplish if we come together.

“It gave me a lot of hope and I was just really proud to be American.”

In the midst of Obama’s call to compromise, Hatch said she was disappointed to see evidence of partisan divide at the inauguration. A protestor near her spot in the crowd had climbed a tree to yell anti-Obama messages through the entire ceremony, and members of the crowd booed when vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, former vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, appeared on the television screens.

Hatch said she would have hoped to see more deference to the day’s purpose – the successful inauguration of a president – rather than party divide.

“I thought it was a little disrespectful,” she said. “We’re here to inaugurate a president. I know Obama and [First Lady Michelle Obama] have made statements earlier in the week that this [inauguration] is supposed to be celebrating democracy and what it means to e American and the American dream … especially now when we need more bipartisanship, more cooperation in Congress.”

Whatever the next four years may hold, Hatch said the inauguration reminded her that she is studying in the nation’s capital at a critical point in United States history.

“I felt really very lucky that I got to be here as a part of the D.C. program through Notre Dame,” she said. “It was awesome to be a part of that.”