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Aspiring Student Leaders Kick Off Inauguration Week

D.C. isn't an easy place to get around this weekend, so I don't envy whoever is doing logistics for the Junior Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference.

The group, which has been working on inaugurations since 1985, brought a record 15,000 students—from grade 5 through college age—to D.C. this week to be part of the inaugural festivities and participate in a sort of weeklong social studies class that will include discussions at the University of Maryland on leadership, government, and the presidency. Helping out will be almost 1,000 staff members, many of whom are teachers.

The kids, who come from all over the country, will be able to hear from, and ask questions of, former Vice President Al Gore, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers, and others.

The students, who were nominated by their teachers and have an interest in leadership and civics, had some prep work to do before they came to Washington. They had to watch one of the debates and figure out where the candidates stood on a variety of issues, then choose the "winner" of the debate.

Just to give you an idea of how crowded D.C. has become, it took the kids about an hour and a half to get to downtown from a Maryland suburb, a trip that usually takes about a half an hour. The program made good use of the time, though. On the bus ride over, as an ice-breaker, the students had to use information about one another to choose a "running mate."

Later this week, the students will read about former presidents when they were teenagers and discuss what kinds of leadership qualities they had. And they'll take a look at past inaugural speeches and try to make guesses about what might come up in President-elect Barack Obama's address. They'll also learn about the oath of office, and write their own oaths.

My colleague, Jennifer Neidenberg, will be following one of the students, Loizos Karaiskos, a 5th grader at Silvermine Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn. This is only his second time in D.C., but his career goal might involve him spending a lot more time here: He wants to be Secretary of State.

Of course, he's especially excited about seeing Colin Powell.

"I want to be like him when I older," he said.

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