On January 20th of this year hundreds of thousands of people crowded into the Mall in Washington, D.C. to witness the inauguration of George W. Bush for a second term as President of the United States.
Way in the back, watching the event on a big screen, was Switzerland County eighth grader Michelle Aufdenkampe.
“It was a pretty interesting thing to see,” Michelle Aufdenkampe said. “We were way back on the Mall, so he looked really, really small to us.”
Michelle Aufdenkampe attended the presidential inauguration as part of the “People to People” student program that she has been involved in for almost three years. The program offers students the chance to tour the world and see various sites and participate in educational activities.
When the chance came to attend the inauguration, Michelle Aufdenkampe jumped at it.
She said that she participates in “People to People” through a Tristate chapter, and that she had the chance to meet other students from all over the world at the inauguration. Leaving from Cincinnati, Michelle Aufdenkampe flew to Baltimore to begin her trip to the nation’s capital. Once in Baltimore, she met up with other “People to People” students and chaperones, and then traveled by charter bus to her hotel in Washington.
“I met kids from all over the world who came in for the inauguration,” Michelle Aufdenkampe said. “I met kids from Korea, India, all over.”
Once at the hotel, Michelle Aufdenkampe and the other students received their official tickets to get into the inauguration, which is held under tight security. After a night’s sleep, the group rose early the morning of the inauguration for their trip to the Mall.
“We went in, and then had to sit there for two to three hours in the cold before the inauguration really started,” Michelle Aufdenkampe said with a grin. “We were way back, so you could see a little about what was going on, but once the program started, we could only see it on the screens.”
The presidential inauguration is held in front of the U.S. Capitol Building, with throngs of well wishers stretched out through the Mall area toward the Washington Monument.
Michelle Aufdenkampe said that one of the things about the occasion that she never realized was that the vice president was also sworn in as part of the ceremony. She noted that usually most people just get to see the presidential portion of the program, but that Vice President Dick Cheney was also sworn in and spoke during the ceremony.
“The whole inauguration, including the vice president and the president, took about two hours,” Michelle Aufdenkampe said.
Once the actual swearing in ceremony was concluded, Michelle Aufdenkampe said that her group went to lunch before heading over to view the inauguration parade.
That’s when the group encountered some problems.
Michelle Aufdenkampe said that there was an entrance gate to get into the parade route, and that she and her group members had tickets to get into the parade. However, she said that a large group of protesters was blocking the entrance, and that one chaperone, two other students, and she were the only ones to make it through the protesters, as the other members of the group were blocked.
“We were inside but we couldn’t stay without the others from the group because we all had to stay together in the crowd,” Michelle Aufdenkampe said. “So we had to go back out and stay with them — so we didn’t get to see the parade.”
Disappointed at missing the parade, the group then traveled back to the hotel for some rest after a long, hard, cold day. She was with a group of approximately 30 people, and roomed at the hotel with a girl from California and a girl from Maine.
The group did get to attend one of the nine inaugural balls held after the inauguration ceremony.
“We ate and danced,” she said. “The day was one I’ll never forget.”
Michelle Aufdenkampe and the other “People to People” students stayed in the nation’s capital for an additional two days following the inauguration, giving them the chance to see many of the sites.
She said that the group toured the Lincoln Memorial in Washington; and they also traveled to the University of Virginia to see some of the campus architecture designed by Thomas Jefferson. They also toured Monticello — Thomas Jefferson’s home that is seen on the obverse side of a nickel.
She then returned home on January 23rd.
“I thought it was very interesting,” Michelle Aufdenkampe said. “I didn’t think the inauguration would be exactly like that. I thought it would be a little longer than what it was, but it was really something to see. I’ll probably not going to ever get to go to another one, so it was a great experience.”
Michelle Aufdenkampe was nominated to be a part of the “People to People” program as a fifth grader at Switzerland County Elementary School. She said that there are 20-30 kids from the Tristate area that are in “People to People”, and that through it she has had many interesting experiences.
The purpose of the program is to expose young people from the United States to different cultures around the world.
As a fifth grader, Michelle Aufdenkampe toured Australia for 16 days; and the following year as a sixth grader she toured England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland for 21 days.
A year later, seventh grader Michelle spent 23 days touring France, Italy, and Malta.
She says that her favorite part of being in the program has been getting to see how people live in other places around the world.
“How people talk, how they live their lives. The different foods that they eat, I enjoy all of that,” she said.
Michelle Aufdenkampe says that her favorite place of travel with “People to People” so far has been Germany. She said that having German ancestors helped her appreciate the country and the people; noting that it was very interesting to see the different types of architecture that is found there.
Her least favorite place?
After some prodding, she confessed that Malta wasn’t a very good experience.
“We had a home stay in Malta, so we stayed with people in their homes rather than in hotels,” she said. “We were allowed to go out and explore Malta by ourselves, but it was so big. Once you go out, you have no way of getting back to your home. The family we stayed with didn’t give us very good directions or a map, so we had a hard time finding our way back, and I didn’t like that.”
Although students who participate in “People to People” have to pay their own expenses for these trips, Michelle Aufdenkampe said that as a middle school student she receives high school credit for participating; and as she participates as a high school student, she will receive college credit.
In addition to the traveling, Michelle Aufdenkampe has also participated in two of “People to People’s” Global Youth Forums.
Saying that the forums promote “peace through understanding”, Michelle Aufdenkampe said that students attend video conferences with other students from around the world to discuss various issues.
The first year she participated in the forum, she discussed issues with students from Sri Lanka; while the second year brought a discussion with kids from Cape Town, South Africa.
“I would really encourage any student who is interested in the program to find out more about it,” Michelle Aufdenkampe said. “They can get online and look up ‘People to People’, or they can talk to me. I think it’s great.”
Michelle Aufdenkampe is the daughter of Bev Aufdenkampe of near East Enterprise and Doug Aufdenkampe of Milford, Ohio. Her brother, Brandon, is seven years old and is a student at Switzerland County Elementary School.
Has all of this travel inspired Michelle to pursue a career as a diplomat?
“No,” she says. “I want to be a nurse.”