Spring 2009 Issue

Potomac Fever

In January, senior Jennifer Sastoque spent 10 days in Washington, D.C., as a volunteer for President Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

Senior Jennifer Sastoque poses in front of the Lincoln Memorial January 11 during ‘Washington DC: Cliff Notes Version,’ a tour of all the major monuments.

She was also chosen among thousands of student-applicants across the country to attend the Washington Center’s Presidential Inauguration Seminar. Since 1984, the seminar has allowed thousands of students to witness the behind-the-scenes operations of national elections and presidential transitions.

A nursing major and secretary of the College Republicans, Sastoque was nominated for the seminar by Assistant Professor of Political Science Dr. Sean Foreman, who applauded the devout Republican for having the courage of her convictions.

“Jennifer was a passionate and tireless voice for John McCain’s campaign,” Foreman noted. “The Barry student population seemed to be about 75 percent for Obama and 25 percent for McCain. Despite these odds, Jennifer was a strong and articulate advocate for her favored candidate − even when many students cheered for Obama and booed McCain.”

Below are excerpts from the day-by-day blog Sastoque kept while in the nation’s capital. The full blog is available online at www.barry.edu/blogs.

Sunday, January 11, 2009 - 10:00 p.m.

Well, it's Day 1 here in D.C. and it is absolutely freezing (by Miami standards anything below 65 degrees fits into that category). This day has been non-stop with guest speakers, city tours, navigating the Metro and walking through DC in 3-inch heels. It has been quite the busy day and at the end of the day I'm still recovering.

So far this experience has been surreal – I'm still pinching myself that I'm actually here and going to be able to witness such an amazing event as the Inauguration. We had several guest speakers today that focused on the “delicate” relationship between the media and politicians.

After five long hours of speakers and focus sessions, we went on what I like to call “Washington DC: Cliff Notes Version,” an express tour of all of the major monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, Union Station, the Vietnam Memorial and everything else you could possibly imagine. Seeing all of these sites only increases my desire to move to D.C., which is what the politicos call "Potomac Fever." The more you're here, the longer you want to stay.

Monday, January 12, 2009 - 11:55 p.m.

Sastoque also gets the opportunity to mingle with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz at The Sunshine and Stars Ball January 19.

My day started at 6 a.m. and ended at 11:30 p.m. But before I jump too far ahead, let's start from the beginning of the day. Monday started off even earlier and even colder than the day before, but I learned from my previous mistakes and opted for flats instead of heels.

This was the day that all of the speakers sparked my interests. One of the more interesting segments included noted Republican and Democrat commentators, Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel. It was refreshing to hear two people with completely different political stances who were not screaming in each other's faces, but respectfully agreed to disagree, or “find common ground,” as they like to say.

The highlight of my day, however, was accidentally running into Fox New Channel’s commentator, Carl Cameron, who followed John McCain's 2008 campaign. I have to confess, being the political nerd that I am, I had to introduce myself to him. Turns out he was at the Capitol to report on a story about Roland Burris and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

After my self-perceived accomplishments, I made my way, by myself, on the Metro to the Washington Convention Center for the Presidential Inaugural Committee Volunteer Committee. The place was packed. Once the orientation started it turns out that more than 80,000 people from across the country applied, but 15,000 were accepted (including yours truly). So I was assigned to the Day of Service at RFK Stadium to help make care packages for our soldiers overseas.

For those of you who were around campus during the time of the presidential debates and election, you know that I was a hard-core John McCain supporter. And it was John McCain's moving concession speech that encouraged all Americans to support our future president, and that is what I'm going to do. In the tough times that we live in, sometimes it feels like everything is going down, and it seems petty to me to not support our future president. Republican, Democrat, black, white, gay, or straight, we're all Americans and we need to be united.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 - 10:51 p.m.

Sastoque poses for a picture with CBS’s Bob Schieffer January 13 after attending a taping a C-Span broadcast on the Obama transition.

Today is the day I curse my shoes and all of the 6.2 miles they have walked today. Perhaps it's my “advanced age” of 22 or my third sleep deprived night, but my mind and body was struggling to get out of bed today. Thank goodness that my motivation was getting to be on C-SPAN today. Imagine more than 650 eager and anxious students crowding around two doors – all trying to grab a choice seat for this auspicious moment.

One of the C-SPAN broadcasts that aired included special guests Juan William (of National Public Radio, Fox News Channel and CNN) and Bret Baier (Fox News Channel's Special Report with Bret Baier). The discussion was on the Obama transition to the presidency and included live calls from across the nation and questions from our student audience. I had the pleasure of meeting both commentators afterwards, and being the Republican junkie that I am, had Brett Baier talk to another Republican junkie, my father, on my cell phone. I'd like to think that it made his day because it made mine!

I also got to meet Bob Schieffer, CBS’s most experienced Washington reporter, moderator of one of the Presidential debates, and the most adorable man I've ever met in my life. I made sure he knew that, which I think he appreciated.

And, I was 30 feet away from President-elect Barack Obama. I know, it's crazy and I'll give you a little back story into how this came to be. I was on my way to the Chamber of Commerce, passing by the hotel where President-elect Obama and his family are staying until the Inauguration. Traffic was in a tizzy because streets were blocked off for security reasons, and we were blocked from getting to our final destination. We look up and see Obama in the back of his car, and he waved to us. That validated my whole trip because I probably got a better view of him than I would at the Inauguration − very, very cool.

Friday, January 16, 2009 - 11:00 a.m.

Senior Jennifer Sastoque gets the opportunity to meet Sen. John McCain, her political hero, January 16 at an Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill.

Well my friends, yesterday was the day that this whole trip was validated for me (and for those of you who know me, you'll see why). First, let's start off with a recap that led up to my shining moment, the highlight of all highlights for me. As a result of this happening, I had to miss a day of seminar speakers, but trust me it was for the greater good.

I started my day by going to the Dirksen Senate Office Building with two other students to attend the Armed Services Committee Hearings. Why? Besides seeing firsthand how our government works, I find it very fascinating that all of these Senate Committee Hearings are open to the public. Anybody can go witness these events, but most Americans do not know this (including myself before today).

Today’s hearing was for the nomination process for four members selected by President-elect Obama to fill various positions in the Department of Defense. It started off with formalities and cordial opening statements about how, out of all the committees, this is the one that is truly bipartisan. Then the Chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), stated that ranking member John McCain would be joining the hearing later. See, I told you I had a good reason. And, let me just say that every time a door opened, my head perked up to see if it was the Arizona senator. So after an hour into the hearing, Sen. McCain makes his way in and just commands the room with his presence, injecting the audience with a new sense of energy.

To tell you the truth, the man was only there for about 15 minutes because he had to attend another committee. He gave some nice opening statements, made some political jokes that I did not understand fully (something about a guy being lawyerly?), and soon left. After the session, we walked to the Holocaust Memorial in 25-degree weather (12 degrees with wind chill). I've been to the Holocaust Memorial before, but it is still just as moving as it was the first time. So many people lost their lives over those 12 years. I find that the worst kind of action is no action.

That night my group made their way to George Washington University where political satirist Mark Russell entertained us. He did not disappoint. Armed with a piano, he commented on everything, from McCain, Palin, Obama, the Clintons, the election, lobbyists, Congress and everything else under the political sun. It was nice to make fun of politics and especially to laugh at them because, as much I love politics, it can be ridiculous.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Today was an early start for me; I made my way to RFK for the Day of Service and arrived at 8 a.m. I was pumped and excited and not quite sure what to expect, but honestly I was just glad to be volunteering. The plan of the day was to make care packages for our soldiers overseas. And as someone who is likely to join the Navy this fall, it was nice to see the support that those who serve this country get from people. It was uplifting and encouraging. And let me just say, there were some pretty cool cameos at this volunteer event: Michelle Obama, Eric Holder, Timothy Geithner, congressmen, governors – oh my!

Unfortunately, I had to leave earlier than I wanted to because I had a ball to go to.

I had never been to anything like this in my life and felt, well still feel, undeserving. The Sunshine and Stars Ball was absolutely wonderful in every way; champagne, hor d'oeuvres, live music, really good food. I still can’t believe that I was there. When no one was looking I pinched myself. The news going around was that Charlie Crist, our Republican governor, was supposed to be in attendance. I did get to meet some very interesting people: Rep. John Mica, Rep. Ron Klein and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I found the latter extremely kind, we both talked about how the cold weather was much kinder to our straightened hair than the weather in Florida. I had an absolutely wonderful time, what could be more fun than mixing art with politics.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day! I don't know how to explain it, but there was just this contagious sense of optimism. Everyone was smiling and so happy to witness something historic. Even after being in D.C. for 10 days, I still couldn't believe that I was there.

As I found out later, there were 1.5 million people on the National Mall alone and a total of 4 million people in the city. Turns out the National Mall was shut down before I even got off the Metro, so I made it to a watch party at the Florida House which was two blocks away from the Capitol. I’m sure as you saw on TV like I did, it was an amazing Inauguration, and the site of all those people and all those flags waving was overwhelming!

The line that struck me the most from President Obama's speech was: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” [It was] just beautifully spoken and so true.

The first day of my seminar they said that they hope that students leave differently than when they first arrived. And it's true, this whole experience has been life changing; it has given me a clearer direction of where I want to go after I leave Barry and how truly grateful I am to live in such a great country.