By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
Laisee Shakespeare, 15, of Hopkinton, has definitely had her share of traveling the past year, and into 2013. Last spring she visited several European countries over a span of several weeks. Just last week, she spent a week’s time in our nation’s capital, Washington D.C., to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
All of this privilege would not be possible without the organization People to People. Shakespeare is a student ambassador with the organization that specializes in establishing and promoting cultural understanding and world peace. People to People started in 1956 by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He wanted to encourage young people to interact with ordinary citizens from around the globe.
This was Shakespeare’s first time in D.C. The list of sites and attractions on her itinerary were all places of interest to her: visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, seeing the White House, the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, watching the changing of the guard ceremony, touring the U.S. Capitol building and the Library of Congress, walking along the National Mall, a People to People ambassador inaugural ball and watching President Obama being sworn into office.
Shakespeare said she definitely wants to go back to D.C. some day because “we were too rushed.” She explained they only had so much time at each site or memorial they went to.
The morning of the President’s inauguration, Shakespeare, along with hundreds of other People to People students and adults woke up at 4 a.m. They took a bus to the Smithsonian, where they were treated to a private tour and breakfast. Shakespeare said the museum was not open to the public. They then walked from the museum to the National Mall to witness the swearing in ceremony.
“It was really crowded,” said Shakespeare. “No one could move an inch.”
With so many people at the scene, she said they were able to see the Capitol building, but had to watch the President being sworn in on the giant TV screens.
Shakespeare said it was surreal watching a moment of history like this. She said some people in the group were not fans of Obama, but they were all told they were a part of history regardless of their political beliefs.
In calling home, Shakespeare said she told her parents to look for the People to People ambassadors in the crowd, as they were all wearing blue hats. Watching footage of the inauguration on TV when she arrived back home, Shakespeare said, “I was in that crowd!”
As they were standing in the crowd of people, Shakespeare said she noticed armed guards on top of buildings watching everything on the ground.
“There were cameras and guards watching everything,” she recalled.
Overall, Shakespeare said seeing all of D.C. was “pretty cool!
“I won’t forget seeing the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial,” she said.
When looking at photographs of these sites in a textbook, Shakespeare said it completely different seeing them up close in real life. She said many of the memorials were so much bigger than she thought.
Taking a bus as their main source of transportation, Shakespeare said their tour guide was well versed in the history of Washington, D.C.
“He told us things you can’t get from reading a book,” said Shakespeare. She said she took her time reading about the memorials and taking it all in rather than just snapping pictures and walking away.
One interesting moment of the trip for Shakespeare was when their bus of about 40-50 student ambassadors was driving through D.C. and came upon a barricade in the road. Their driver wasn’t aware that the road was blocked off, so he sat there and waited to see what the fuss was all about. All of sudden, Shakespeare said they saw several police cars drive past their bus, along with the President’s caravan. Something they never expected to see!
With more People to People trips in the works, Shakespeare said she’s going to take some time off from traveling for now.
To learn more about People to People, visit www.peopletopeople.com.
PHOTOS: Top: Stopping at the WWII Memorial as part of the National Mall, Laisee Shakespeare gets a photo at the Iowa pillar. There is a pillar for each state of the union as of 1945, as well as U.S. territories during that time. (Photos submitted)
Second: This was Laisee Shakespeare’s view on the National Mall the morning of the President’s swearing in ceremony as visitors waved the U.S. flag. She said they watched the footage on giant TV screens.
Third: Also part of the National Mall, Shakespeare is seen here with the Washington Monument and reflecting pool in the background. So many tourists were in D.C. at this time to witness the President’s inauguration.
Fourth: The morning of the inauguration, the People to People student ambassadors were treated to breakfast and a private tour of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Last: The White House was a stop on Shakespeare’s People to People tour of Washington D.C.