Every four years, the nation watches the Presidential Inauguration. Unlike most of those people who watch from home, Winslow High School senior Nicole Buonviri got a nearly front row view of the ceremony.
Buonviri was selected to join the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference (PYIC) in Washington, D.C., for her "exemplary performance in the classroom and an interest in leadership." She attended the inauguration of President Bush with approximately 600 other young leaders from around the country.
The PYIC is sponsored by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council (CYLC), an independent, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to nurturing leadership. CYLC is not affiliated with any political party or the federal government.
The six-day conference included a hectic schedule of meetings and briefings as well as a reality-based simulation that explores the electoral process and campaign strategies.
"I've been interested in politics for a long time," she said. "I never thought about getting involved in a campaign before, but now I probably will."
Students took on roles as campaign operatives with the exercise ending in a mock election. The entire group split into two parties — Republicans and Democrats — which nominated a candidate.
The Democratic candidate won in a landslide with nearly 80-percent of the votes. The Republicans could not decide on a single candidate and ran two thus splitting their votes.
The inauguration was not the only significant event in town that week. Buonviri, the Student Council President, missed the inaugural parade to attend the Condoleezza Rice Senate confirmation hearing. During a break, Buonviri and a few other students met Rice, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Colin Powell, Jeb Bush and legislators. She met Arizona Sen. John McCain who just happened to be walking down the street.
“We explained why we were there and he thought that was pretty cool," she said.
The only negative part of the trip for Buonviri was when she and some friends got caught up in a group of protestors that turned rowdy.
"When police in riot gear started hitting people with batons and using pepper spray, that's when we decided to get out of there," she said.
The students also attended a "Rock the Future" concert that included guest speakers including President Bush, a cruise on the Potomac River and attended lectures by people who ran campaigns with varying degrees of success. Libertarian Presidential candidate Michael Bednarik was one of many keynote speakers.
"It's interesting to get a different view on politics," Buonviri said.
The program also exposes the students to different cultures from around the country — some differences more obvious than others.
"People from the Northeast were more used to the cold. The people from out west were not dressed as warm," she said. The high temperature one day was a brisk 12 degrees, she said.
Buonviri said she is keeping in touch with new friends from Maine, Pennsylvania and Texas. Meeting people from the Lone Star State helped shatter one myth.
"There were so many Texans there," she said. "But most of them weren't Republicans."