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Inauguration Is Celebrated, From a Concert for Youth to Education-Themed Gala

By Christina A. Samuels — January 25, 2005 5 min read
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While tens of thousands of people angled to get a glimpse of President Bush and first lady Laura Bush during Inauguration Day festivities that included the traditional parade and nine official inaugural balls, the next secretary of education was the star of one of the many private parties on Jan. 20.

Only a few hours after she had been confirmed by the Senate, Margaret Spellings arrived around 10 p.m. at a black-tie inaugural gala sponsored by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training, a Washington-based group that includes some of the nation’s largest computer and educational technology companies.

Young people cheer at a rock concert for President Bush.

Ms. Spellings was greeted by an impromptu receiving line at the event at the Folger Shakespeare Library near the U.S. Capitol. Other guests angled to get pictures taken with her as she worked through the crowd. She didn’t speak at the event.

“I do think her coming was an acknowledgment of the role of technology in education,” said Don Knezek, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based International Society for Technology in Education and a NCTET board member. The society advances the use of technology in K-12 education and teacher preparation.

About 700 people were invited to the gala, which was the coalition’s third such Inauguration Day event and was meant to allow the leaders of education groups and technology firms to mingle. (“Education Gala Part of Presidential Inaugural Week,” Jan. 12, 2005.)

Among the guests were representatives of the National Education Association, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Mr. Knezek said the event was intended to reaffirm the value of technology in education, while giving guests “a chance to connect with the new power structures.”

“It’s to celebrate the community that surrounds the use of technology,” Mr. Knezek said.

The Folger Shakespeare Library was described by some NCTET board members as a perfect place to have an education-themed event. Guests moved through the three main rooms, nibbling on a dinner buffet that included an open bar, beef tenderloin, shrimp pasta, and mini quiches. Three musical acts, including a jazz band and former Supremes singer Mary Wilson, entertained. Lobbying appeared to be limited mainly to the exchange of business cards.

The party was definitely a step above one of the official inaugural balls, said Christopher Amon, a staff member for Rep. John E. Sweeney, R-N.Y., who was invited by computer maker Dell Inc., one of the corporate sponsors. Mr. Amon had been at one of the official balls in a cavernous convention hall earlier in the evening, which he described as having no food and a cash bar.

“This is definitely the better event,” he said.

Concert Starts Week

President Bush made only a brief reference to education in his inaugural address last week.

“To give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will bring the highest standards to our schools, and build an ownership society,” he said.

The inauguration festivities got off to a squeaky-clean start at a Jan. 18 youth concert sponsored by the Presidential Inaugural Committee that had twin goals: get young people rocking and excited about public service.

The organizers of “America’s Future Rocks Today” at the District of Columbia Armory melded the two objectives by interweaving performances by pop singers such as Hilary Duff, JoJo, and “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard with short videos of children and teenagers from around the country who were volunteering in their own communities, doing everything from collecting shoes for Afghan children to creating youth-literacy programs.

Several of the teenagers, whose stories were broadcast from jumbo video screens suspended in the concert hall, were brought on stage to say a few words about their work. The hosts included Miss America 2003 Erika Harold, former New York Jets football player Jason Sehorn, and the actor Stephen Baldwin.

Rap-rocker Kid Rock, originally rumored to be one of the performers, had prompted protests from some of the president’s conservative supporters. The singers who were chosen were resolutely wholesome and child-friendly.

The only unscripted moment occurred when Brett Scallions, the lead singer of the rock band Fuel, blurted a profanity that was inappropriate for a youth event.

“Pardon my language,” he said. “I wasn’t supposed to use that word.”

In the upper-tier seats, Lindsay Smith and Abi Dillingham, both 15-year-old 9th graders at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., shrieked and snapped pictures when singer Ryan Cabrera took the stage. They got the tickets to the event through Ms. Smith’s lobbyist father, and said they liked the call to service.

“It really makes me want to go out and do something. It’s good to make doing something popular, and not like you’re a dork,” Ms. Cunningham said.

‘Army of Compassion’

The concert was the only overtly youth-oriented event during the inaugural week. Many of the events were intended to shine a spotlight on those in the military. President Bush hit that theme when he made an appearance at the end of the two-hour youth concert, prompting glow-stick-waving concertgoers on the half-full armory’s floor to scramble toward the stage for a better view.

“I’m particularly thrilled to be standing on the stage with some of America’s soldiers in the army of compassion,” Mr. Bush told the young crowd. Only he and Mrs. Bush took the stage. Their daughters, Jenna and Barbara, who were listed as having helped plan the event, watched from a balcony.

Adele Brown, a 17-year-old senior at Baton Rouge (La.) High School, was so shocked to see the president on stage that she called her mother by cellphone.

Johnny Ashe, a 17-year-old senior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, called the event “truly awesome. It’s mind-blowing.” He was participating in Presidential Classroom, an Alexandria, Va.-based organization that brings students from around the country to Washington.

And the music? He paused. “I’m an eclectic,” he said, diplomatically. “I like a little bit of everybody.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 26, 2005 edition of Education Week as Inauguration Is Celebrated, From a Concert for Youth To Education-Themed Gala

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