Youth Groups To Underscore Inauguration Theme
Four months ago, the 67 students who sing in the chorus at a rural elementary school in Washington state had no idea they would be crossing the continent this month for President Clinton's inauguration.
Most of the children have never even been on a plane before, much less a part of history.
Mr. Clinton surprised the chorus at Yelm Elementary School in September when he personally invited them to the nation's capital.
The invitation came during a fall campaign visit to the West Coast, when the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped in Yelm, south of Tacoma, to hear the school's chorus sing "It Takes a Village." The song, written by the school's music teacher, Lynn R. Kourehdar, reflects themes from Mrs. Clinton's best-selling book, It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us.
The performance made an impression. "If my contract is renewed in November, I would like for these kids to sing that song at my inauguration," Mr. Clinton said.
The chorus will join groups from 16 high schools and one junior high school in the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 20, following the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol. The parade is one of a host of pre- and post-inaugural ceremonies to be held Jan. 18-20.
The theme for the celebration is "An American Journey: Building a Bridge to the 21st Century." David Seldin, the deputy press secretary for the inaugural committee, said the participation of young people in the parade is central to that theme, which Mr. Clinton stressed in his re-election bid last fall.
"We tried to look for diversity and get different types of groups involved," Mr. Seldin said. "We didn't want 100 college marching bands, which has been the tradition historically."
One of the less traditional units scheduled to march in the parade is the Grantwood All-City Drum Corps, a group from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, whose oldest member is 16 and youngest is 3.
Director Slayton Thompson said he started the drum corps out of his home six years ago when he and his wife were looking for a way to give neighborhood children something positive to focus on.
Though it began with only three students and an old set of drums, the corps now has more than 100 members and has gained statewide recognition since it was invited to join in the inaugural parade.
"I practice every week, even when I'm sick," 8-year-old Micah Reed, one of the group's founding members, said last week. "I can't wait to see the president."
The group will make its trip to Washington as economical as possible by taking buses and staying at a local youth center. Even so, Mr. Thompson said the group would never have been able to raise the roughly $30,000 needed for the trip.
But when news of the group's invitation spread, local media organizations jumped on the story and donations began pouring in. The drum corps has now raised more than $60,000 from a variety of contributors.
"The support has been overwhelming," Mr. Thompson said. "Even the kids have given up their allowances for this trip."
The donations will allow parents and members of the community to join the group in Washington.
Boost for D.C.
One group that won't have to worry about money for travel is the marching band from Shaw Junior High School, the District of Columbia's representative in the inaugural parade.
In recent years, the band from the 75,000-student school system has marched in parades as far away as Florida's Walt Disney World and Ontario, Canada.
However, Band Director Lloyd W. Hoover said the opportunity to march in the inaugural parade means more to the students than any past trips.
"This is an all-time high for the kids," said Mr. Hoover, who plans to retire this spring after 42 years of teaching. "When people talk about the 1997 inauguration, they can feel proud that they were a part of it."
Joshua Morgan, a 9th grade drum major, said that marching in the parade is also a way of showing the country that something good can come from the capital city's much-maligned school system.
"We may live in area where bottles are busted and there's trash in the street," he said. "But that doesn't mean that the schools are also doing terrible things."