ELKHART — Demetrios Kamiotis will attend Monday’s presidential inauguration, but not necessarily because he’s ga-ga for President Obama.
The 12-year-old Concord Junior High School student sees the trip — part of a national program providing hands-on educational opportunities for students — as a chance to learn. It’s a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Obama, he’s “just fine,” thinks Demetrios, but the trip, as he sees it, isn’t meant to pay homage to the Democrat, who will be sworn-in to his second term in office at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. It’s a chance to get a glimpse of the U.S. government in action.
Dave Ostergren of Goshen, meanwhile, is an Obama supporter and he sees Monday’s ceremony as a chance to be a part of history. The Goshen College environmental education professor will be traveling there with his two sons, ages 14 and 10, and his niece, a sophomore at Goshen College.
“It’s our first black president,” said Ostergren. “He’s being sworn in on Martin Luther King Day.”
Hundreds of thousands are expected to be on hand Monday when Obama raises his right hand and starts his second term, and among the bunch will be a handful from Elkhart County.
The ceremony isn’t expected to be the massive event that his 2009 inauguration was. A McClatchy Newspapers report cites officials as expecting a crowd of perhaps 600,000 to 800,000, down from the estimated 1.8 million four years ago. Still, there’s plenty of excitement, whether you’re an Obama backer, like Ostergren, or not necessarily so enamored, like Demetrios.
“It’s an American experience,” said Elkhart County Democratic Party Chairwoman Shari Mellin, who will also be on hand with her husband, Tom.
FRISBEE, HANGING OUT
Ostergren’s group was to leave for Washington, D.C., this morning, Jan. 19, by car. They don’t have tickets and they plan to get up around 4 a.m. Monday and head out to the National Mall soon thereafter, where they’ll claim an unticketed spot among the masses of others also expected to converge, hours ahead of time.
“It kind of turns into the frisbee, hanging-out kind of deal,” said Ostergren, making his first inauguration.
Obama will formally be sworn in to office on Sunday and the ceremonial swearing in, drawing the masses of people, takes place Monday at 11:30 a.m. outside the U.S. Capitol, adjacent to the National Mall. The inaugural address follows.
“You can see him, but he’s going to be small,” said Ostergren. Fortunately, there will be Jumbotrons conveying the action to National Mall visitors.
Mellin will have a closer look, presumably. She has tickets to the inauguration, which will give her access to seating closer to the Capitol.
“I’m thrilled. I think this is just an opportunity that doesn’t come very often in life,” she said.
Mellin and her husband also plan to watch the inaugural parade and attend one of the many inaugural balls later in the evening. She was tabbed last year as one of Indiana’s five members on the Democratic National Committee, and she’ll also squeeze in some DNC meetings while in the city.
Demetrios will be attending with a group of other students, part of a six-day People to People Ambassador Programs activity that’s giving an up-close glimpse of Washington D.C. to 72 kids from around the nation. His parents, George and Athena Kamiotis, and his 10-year-old sister, Stephanie, will also be there, though they’ll be fending for themselves while Demetrios takes part in People to People-sponsored activities.
“I think it will be a new experience,” said Demetrios.
Arvis Dawson, assistant to Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, and Andy Jones, manager of Elkhart Municipal Airport, will also take part in inauguration activities. They went to the U.S. Conference of Mayors conference in Washington D.C., which ended Friday, and planned to remain for Monday’s events. They’ll cover the costs of the extended stay out of their own pockets.
‘OUTGOING AND JOYFUL’
It should be brisk Monday, with temperatures expected to reach into the high 30s in Washington.
Cold or hot, though, Gail Martin, another Elkhart resident who plans to attend, hopes for an electric ambiance. That’s how it was, at least, at Obama’s inauguration four years ago, which she also attended.
“People were so friendly and outgoing and joyful last time and I’m hoping that’ll be the situation this time,” she said.