By Randy LaBauve, LSU AgCenter
BATON ROUGE, La. – Seven Louisiana 4-H’ers attended the 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus: Presidential Inauguration event in Washington D.C. These youth, selected through an application process, joined nearly 500 other 4-H’ers from across the country to become part of a real-life civics and history lesson that would unfold before them.
“It was a great way to become involved in our country’s political process and learn about the executive branch,” said 10th-grader Clayton LeBlanc from Iberville Parish.
“They planned a whole year for this and, it was phenomenal for them,” said Karen Shirley, LSU AgCenter agent in Winn Parish, who chaperoned the trip. “Most of them had not been to Washington, but the experience of this environment really immersed them in the roles of government.”
This year marked the first time the 50-year-old 4-H citizenship program coincided with a presidential inauguration. The youth participated in civic workshops and a mock presidential election and were able to develop a greater understanding of what makes a good citizen.
But the historic experience of the week was being part of the inauguration of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States.
“We had the closest ticketed standing spot available,” said 11th-grade Winn Parish 4-H’er Samantha Taylor. “There were way more people there than in my whole town or parish.”
“Seeing it on TV, people didn’t hear what the crowd was saying,” Shirley said. “Being there at that time was a unique experience. The kids were wowed.”
“I didn’t know that all the officials take the same generic oath of office and that they can’t swear in the president until 12 noon or after,” LeBlanc said. “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang to take up time until it was officially noon.”
During the week, the 4-H’ers participated in a service project, cleaning up trash near a stream on the University of Maryland campus. They also took a nighttime tour of historic monuments and visited several Smithsonian museums.
“I expected to be with our Louisiana people, but that wasn’t how it was,” Taylor said. “It was even better because we met new people from across the U. S., and it was amazing to see what they bring to the table.”
The night of the inauguration, 4-H’ers attended a dinner and dance cruise on the Potomac River.
“Samyra Miller from Orleans Parish sang the National Anthem on the cruise, and she sounded amazing,” LeBlanc said.
Now that they’re back home, these 4-H’ers have begun giving presentations to 4-H Clubs and civic groups in their communities. They are expressing gratitude to people and organizations who donated money for the trip and sharing what they learned, Shirley said.
“I have a dream to be a doctor; not necessarily politics,” LeBlanc said. “But I’ll definitely do my citizenship role in voting and being informed.”
“We learned so much about the government. And this opened me up to being a better citizen, and it will stick with me forever,” Taylor said.