By Russell Hood
The Webster Progress-Times
A Eupora Elementary School student witnessed history firsthand when she attended the second inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.
Sixth-grader Kyla Patterson heard the president deliver his inaugural address and took part in other activities in Washington through the People to People Student Ambassador Program.
“I was happy to go because it was a one-in-a-lifetime chance,” she said.
President Dwight Eisenhower created the People to People program in 1956. Its mission developed around personal exchanges and firsthand experiences with other cultures. The Student Ambassador Program focuses on education and increasing global awareness for students in grades 5-12 and college.
Louise Woodard, then a teacher at EES, nominated Kyla to become a student ambassador last April. She was accepted to the program based upon her nomination, two letters of recommendation from other teachers, her leadership abilities and GPA.
The members of Mt. Union Missionary Baptist and Liberty United Methodist churches helped support Kyla on her trip.
Kyla was in Washington from Jan. 17-22 as part of a 512-member delegation that included 82 people from China. She and the other student ambassadors had to wake up at 4:15 a.m. Inauguration Day, Jan. 21. They boarded a bus at 5 a.m. for a breakfast before traveling to the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on the National Mall to await the president’s swearing-in ceremony, second inaugural speech and inaugural parade.
Kyla said she and the others in her group were fairly close to the inaugural podium as they heard President Obama deliver his speech at noon and Beyonce Knowles perform the national anthem (to a pre-recorded track) accompanied by the U.S. Marine Band.
Afterwards, the president spoke to the student ambassadors for about five minutes during the People to People Inaugural Ball. Kyla said she screamed when saw Obama because she did not know he was going to be the speaker. “He had two guards onstage and two outside the door,” she observed.
Other highlights of Kyla’s trip included visits to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial; the Lincoln Memorial, on whose steps King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech 50 years ago; the Jefferson Memorial; and other monuments and memorials. The delegation also traveled to George Washington’s Mount Vernon (Va.) home
Other stops included the Freedom Forum’s Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism where Kyla did a “broadcast”; and the International Spy Museum, which was of particular interest to Kyla because she wants to be an FBI agent. Kyla also attended a performance of the interactive murder mystery “Shear Madness” at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Additionally, the ambassadors heard presentations by Ken Walsh, U.S. News and World Report’s chief White House correspondent; and Mary Eisenhower, President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, and president and CEO of People to People International.
Kyla’s mother, Vickey Patterson, and brother, Lennie (a student at Ole Miss), made the trip by car with her to the nation’s capital. Kyla was allowed to see them only 15 minutes a day, however, because of her busy schedule with People to People. One highlight for Vickey Patterson, who is a city aldermen, was being interviewed by a CNN reporter while awaiting the start of the inauguration.
Kyla said she made many friends, including two from Alabama and Alaska with whom she still texts.