A year 13 student from Badminton School was part of a historical moment last month after she was invited to Washington DC to see the inauguration United States of America President, Barack Obama.
Oluwaseun, an A-level pupil at the Westbury-on-Trym school near Bristol, was selected to attend the five-day event due to her hard work at the Global Youth Leadership Conference. After witnessing the truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit the swearing in of the second term of President Obama, Oluwaseun sat down to answer a few of our questions about her amazing experience – including meeting the former Secretary of State, Dr Condoleezza Rice.
Gabbitas: First of all, how did you get selected to be at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony?
Oluwaseun: At age 15, I was privileged to attend the Global Youth Leadership Conference. Subsequently, I became a Congressional Youth Leadership Council (CYLC) scholar [CYLC is the organisation that organised the conference] and distinguished alumni, which then led to an unexpected invitation to the Inaugural Conference in Washington DC.
Gabbitas: Describe the varied events which you attended…
Oluwaseun: On arrival I met Alex Schriver and Tori Taylor; National Leaders of the official college youth movements for the Republican and Democrat parties respectively. They gave a beneficial insight into election campaigns and strategies as well as their effects on the democratic process. Afterwards, we enjoyed a performance by the notable political satirists Capitol Steps. The next day, I attended a speech entitled
“Finding Your Passion” by Condoleezza Rice, the first African-American woman to hold the post of Secretary of State. Later on in the evening, I was involved in a panel discussion between TV anchorman Nick Clooney and Bob Woodward. The following day was the essence of the trip; special activities were planned around the public swearing-in ceremony of the President and Vice President as well as the inaugural parade. On my last day, myself and other scholars met to discuss issues important to us and our countries. We all had to create an action plan to usher change and fulfill our roles as future global leaders. The charismatic General Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, reinforced the notion of individual and collective roles in an address to us titled: “Your Voice, Your Venue”.
Gabbitas: How inspiring was it meeting some of the event delegates, especially former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice?
Oluwaseun: Very inspiring! The highlight of the occasion for me was meeting Dr Rice, who spoke on institutionalising freedoms through democracy and the actualisation of dreams. She described her journey from growing up as part of a racially segregated society to becoming Secretary of State with the words “The impossible is often inevitable.” Dr Rice went on to joke; “if someone won’t sit next to you because of your colour; ignore it as long as they don’t expect you to move its fine.” This was inspiring because I realised that often an impediment to one’s goals is self-limitation or pity. It was very uplifting, it emphasised that perseverance and focus is key to success. I learnt a lot from her within just a few minutes.
Gabbitas: On the day of the inauguration, did you have a clear view of what was happening?
Oluwaseun: Although I was standing very close to Capitol for the best part of the ceremony I didn’t actually have a clear view of Obama himself, due to my height! However, I had a clear view of the impact of democracy, unity and progressive thinking on a society. The vibe was intense; it’s not something words can adequately describe. I felt extremely privileged to be witnessing one of the most glorious moments in modern politics. My faith in our political systems was re-established; I know America isn’t a perfect democracy but I witnessed the zeal and desire of a leader and his people to get it right. I had heard no other politician connect with his or her people on such a personal level: every race, every gender and all ages appeared to be moved, and it was uplifting. Obama spoke on the undemocratic nature of the long queuing required to cast a vote; an issue that is often ignored, but he was sensitive enough to pick up on it. I thought it was a bold effort to make the idealistic notion of democracy more realistic and that touched me. Essentially, on the Inauguration day, I had a clear view of what I believe was a positive turning point in political history.
Gabbitas: Did you know much about American politics before your visit to Washington DC?
Oluwaseun: I knew very little about American politics apart from the second amendment in the constitution about gun laws, due its frequent appearance in the news. I was aware of the basics; the three branches of government and the electoral process. I knew very little about how American civilians viewed politics and the way their democracy is governed; the trip rectified that. I learnt a lot about negative campaigning, how it threatens a true democracy and how much fellow scholars detested it. It was extremely inspiring to meet people my age with clear views and responses to Political issues. For me, it highlighted how much more I could and should be doing to further my passion for transparent democratic process in my home country, Nigeria.
Gabbitas: What was the overwhelming highlight of such a high-profile trip?
Oluwaseun: That’s an extremely difficult question. In five days I met some of the most successful and influential people in world politics. I can say, I saw the Capitol, I saw history and I was a part of it, for that I am truly grateful. I really enjoyed Condoleezza’s and President Obama’s speeches. The Inaugural Ball at the National Air and Space Museum was very exciting too with music, delicious food, and beautiful and inspirational people all around. However, I would say the highlight for me was actually meeting other students like myself, with a real drive to actualise positive change; it was infectious and encouraging.
Gabbitas: Will your attendance at the inauguration change any future career plans?
Gabbitas would like to personally thank Oluwaseun for her time telling us her amazing story. To read more, check out her article on the Badminton School website
Oluwaseun: If anything, it has reaffirmed them. I remember, at my Badminton School interview I went on about how I wanted to become the first female President of Nigeria. Subsequent engagement with societal expectations caused me to mellow down and discard that dream as being unachievable. However, after Dr Rice said the key is finding your passion; I realised that besides law and justice, mine is to help people and leaving a positive lasting legacy. You never know I may still go on to be Nigeria’s first female President! In the meantime, I will still go on to study law at Jesus College, Cambridge and then become a commercial barrister, which will enable me to help people.