Posted by: Josh Hinkle | January 20, 2009

Obama Is, Like, Totally Presidential and Stuff

TV, newspapers, Web sites, Twitter. Everywhere I turned on inauguration day, journalists flocking to Washington D.C. basked in their glorious trip. “Just yards from the nation’s new president.” “Here on the mall.” “Crowd so loud you can barely understand Obama’s speech.” A part of me really wanted to be there. But what I actually did that day turned out to be quite inspiring.

img_0082My assignment was to hang out with kids at Cedar Rapids’ Harding Middle School, who were watching the inauguration on TV. I’m not the biggest fan of that age group. Please don’t assume I don’t have a heart. I just don’t have much patience. Kids are great in twos or threes. But cram a hundred or more in a building together, and it’s almost too much for me to take at one time. I think it goes back to my own seventh grade experience. Braces. Books. Blah. I was practically my own target for teasing. Studious and… yeah, that’s about it.

We hurried up to the door, running a little later than I like. I wanted to set up the camera before the students started class. Door after door – all locked. Finally, a voice from the wall said, “You have to push the button before I can let you in.” Obama thinks his security is tight. I never had to jump through these hoops back in my middle school days.

In the few seconds it took me to enter and walk to the front desk, the secretary was already on the phone. I politely said, “We’re with TV9, here to see Mr. Bakkum.” I got the “just a second” finger, so I took the liberty of signing myself and the photographer in. The secretary raised her eyebrows and told her caller to “hold on.”

“Unless you intend to be tardy, I suggest you sign-in on the other form instead.” The “Tardy Students” sheet stared up at me and seemed to say, “You’re stupid.” I could feel my face flush, as I scribbled out what I had already written, grabbed the other sheet, and quickly re-wrote our names. I could only imagine the reporters in D.C. didn’t have to deal with tardy sliimg_0087ps.

Chad Bakkum’s class was nothing like what I expected. The 12- and 13-year-olds were mature. They had political ideas. Most importantly, they didn’t tease me! The kids from my seventh grade class could barely think up a “your mama’s so ugly” joke, let alone give me a reason why our nation needs change. (Note: Mom, those jokes don’t actually mean you’re unattractive, but they really do a lot to make a kid mad. Playground humor. So overrated.)

img_0090True, one of Mr. Bakkum’s students did ask if there would be snacks while they watched the oath of office on TV. And another told the class his dad says Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a wrestler (not an actor) prior to becoming president. But, the overall impact was amazing.

The kids had chosen sides. Some were thrilled with Obama. Others still longed for a McCain administration – the Really Young Republicans Club. Regardless, they had ideas and hopes. Mr. Bakkum described their passion perfectly, saying, “I believe I have one girl this year who wanted to shut down the street just for her birthday, so she was writing to the city council.” That’s the kind of political motivation I feel my school days lacked.

Even the oldest kid in the class wouldn’t be old enough to vote for Obama if he runs again the next time around. But the interest that this candidate, election, and inauguration, for that matter, peaked is paving the way for some major civic engagement from this generation. It excites me to think about that future, and it certainly made my experience on inauguration day memorable.

Check out my KCRG-TV9 story about this experience. Plus, view KCRG-TV9’s Inauguration 2009 page for complete coverage of the event.



  1. Interesting and a lot of “extra” info. here… thanks for walking us through your inauguration day experience!

  2. I agree the Harding attendance secretary could be a little more personable with visitors attending the school. Believe it or not, she is nicer than the one that just retired. I guess the new one learned from the old. Imagine that?

  3. You made me think back to my own seventh grade days — I think we were more concerned with whose shoes didn’t match their clothes than with anything political or environmental. But that was back in the … oh, a while before yours, we’ll just leave it at that.

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