Although some of the news this week seems to be dominated by those who will boycott Friday’s inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, York Comprehensive High School is different.
There is only excitement to witness the transfer of power in what the students and their teacher say is the greatest country on earth.
Josh McKown, a 14-year-old ninth-grader who attended the last two inaugurals with his older sister as part of a York contingent, said this about the thrill of being there: “Prepare to be wowed.”
The spectacle, McKown said, is “awesome.”
York will not be alone in Washington. A group of students and adults from Clover High School left Tuesday to attend the inauguration.
York’s inauguration trip has become tradition.
Longtime world history teacher Jane Gilfillan will make her seventh trip to Washington, D.C. in the past 24 years for the event, taking with her a busload of York students and others. York has sent a busload to two Clinton inaugurations, two for George W. Bush, and two for Barack Obama.
Gilfillan said American history and tradition and respect for the country, and its people, are more important than Trump or anyone else. The students deserve to be there to witness history, she said. This year’s trip, which leaves Thursday before dawn, has 54 students and adults.
“The election, there was a time when it was so, well indecent, that I considered canceling the trip, but we are going,” Gilfillan said. “One of the problems in this country is some have lost respect for the office itself and the greatness of our democracy. This is a new beginning for the country and its people. That’s what we teach. Democracy, the people’s role in their government.”
Destiny Love and Bailey Wallace, ninth-graders, are thrilled to be going, and the politics and controversy surrounding Trump and some Democrats who will not attend is no damper.
“Just to see it happen, that’s what this country is all about,” said Wallace, 14.
Love, 14, said the experience is what counts.
“We get to be there in front of the whole country and world,” Love said.
Most of the students took Gilfillan’s classes during the fall and have spent months since May raising money, learning about American government and preparing for the trip, but there are a few younger middleschoolers too.
Gilfillan, a former York County Council member and self-described “government junkie,” arms her group with South Carolina state flags donated by the Bank of York so people watching on television and the Internet can see the group. Several times national media has interviewed York’s energetic and patriotic students over the years as they wave from the National Mall between the capitol building and Washington Monument.
“Everybody in the world sees our flags,” said Josh McKown. “I’m going to do Facebook Live this time. Everybody in the world can watch us.”
The bus trip and four days at the capital includes visits to Smithsonian museums and other sights. But the inauguration is the jewel. For Gilfillan, this is the every-four-years mother lode of all field trips. Even if it requires months of planning, miles of walking, juggling buses and hotel and meals and chaperoning.
“This is a huge day, an important day, for our country no matter who is inaugurated,” Gilfillan said. “These young people won’t watch history on TV. They will be part of it.”