The chance to witness the inauguration of America’s first black president can best be described as an honor.

At least that’s how several students at Gustavus Adolphus College feel about the upcoming experience. Political science instructor Kate Knutson is leading 15 students to Washington, D.C., for two weeks as part of their J-term class. Included in the group’s extensive itinerary are visits to various museums, a tour of the Library of Congress, a stop at Mount Vernon and of course, President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.

“Words can’t describe it,” sophomore Kristy Proctor said. “I’m excited to be able to tell my kids and grandkids that I went to Obama’s inauguration.”

Senior Abby Norlin-Weaver concurred.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” she said. “It’s so exciting and an honor just to be present for it and be a part of it.”

Knutson joked about herself being a “political junkie” and said she’d like to be present at any inauguration. The fact this is America’s first black president just makes her feel more honored to have the opportunity and thankful that Gustavus allowed her to plan the course.

Although she’s anxious for the trip, Knutson realizes safety is a big concern when attending a presidential inauguration.

“It’s always in the back of my head because it is a very big target,” she said. “The best we can do is try and be prepared for the worst but not let the fear of threats ruin a really important American experience.”

And that experience is expected to draw millions of people and has caused hotels in the city to book up as early as last summer. Knutson started planning the trip early and students were required to register last spring, long before knowing the outcome of the election.

More recently, Knutson said she’s received e-mails asking if there were still openings in the class of 15, a number that couldn’t be adjusted because of limited hotel space.

Along with reserving hotel rooms, Knutson had to plan tours and set up meetings, a process made easier by Gustavus alumni. Knutson sent an e-mail to an active alumni group in Washington saying she was looking for people in various areas of government. The responses she received were overwhelming and allowed her to plan a variety of activities for the trip, the highlight being Inauguration Day.

Obama promoted change throughout his campaign, and even though the nation has hit economically hard times, Knutson thinks the president-elect can adjust.

“The environment is different than it was when he made those campaign promises, so you’ve already started to see him shift some of his priorities,” she said.

Norlin-Weaver agreed Obama is looking at a different situation now than what he started with, but she hopes he’ll do what he can to fulfill the changes he guaranteed.

The first change they’d like to see under the Obama administration: getting out of a recession. Gustavus junior Jake Partridge hopes Obama will make the best decisions to help the struggling economy.

“If he can do this, then he will have an easier time handling the other issues that face the nation,” he said.

Proctor and Norlin-Weaver agreed the economy should come first, saying all other issues revolve around it.

Not only is the group expecting Obama’s presidency to improve the nation, they hope it will help other countries see the United States in a more positive light.

“Having an African-American president shows America has reached a new level,” Proctor said.

Knutson also sees positive changes, and said, “If nothing else, it’s a fresh start to foreign policy.”

Freshman Andrew Manley thinks having a younger president is a fresh start in itself.

“He’s been an inspiration for an entire generation of young people who had been previously turned off to politics,” Manley said.

“A generation of kids are going to grow up knowing it’s a possibility for someone who doesn’t look like the traditional poster of the president to become president,” Knutson said.

Even though Obama’s presidency will eventually come to an end, Knutson and her students hope the election of a black president will open doors for more diversity in Congress, break down barriers that previously held the country back and reassure young people that anything is possible in America.

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