Coleen Gabhart of Lawrence, Indiana, turned 18 just in time to cast her first vote for president in 2016. Friday, she and nine other Indiana 4-H members witnessed history by attending the 58th presidential inauguration as part of Citizenship Washington Focus, a leadership conference sponsored by National 4-H.
Before boarding the group’s flight to Washington, D.C. last week, Gabhart said she was looking forward to the pomp and pageantry of the inauguration ceremony, but was equally interested in finding out more about the democratic process.
“What I would like to learn more about is how we get from the primaries to finally having a president, especially the Electoral College” she said.
This was the first time National 4-H held a leadership event in conjunction with a presidential inauguration. More than 500 4-H members from throughout the country were expected to attend the conference, which included workshops focusing on the meaning and importance of the democratic process, the history of the presidency and election process, and the role of the media. Participants also had an opportunity to visit memorials, historical sites and museums, as well as attend an inauguration night dinner and dance cruise on the Potomac River.
Group chaperone Tony Carrell, 4-H youth development Extension specialist at Purdue University, said the trip was one of the highest profile events he has been involved in during his 20-year career with the organization.
“4-H offers such a wide variety of learning opportunities that can and do change the lives of young people,” Carrell said. “It’s very exciting to be a part of this and we are very grateful to the Indiana 4-H Foundation for providing significant funding to offset the expenses of this experience.”
The 10 Indiana representatives, ranging from high school juniors to college freshmen, were selected through an essay and interview process and came from throughout the state, including Cass, Floyd, Green, Lake, Lawrence, Scott, Vigo and Warrick counties.
“4-H has opened so many doors for me,” said Evan Merida, a senior at Community Montessori school in Floyd County and 10-year 4-H member. “It’s brought me to places I never dreamt of being.”