By Andrew Mitrisin and Michael Schwartz
In this age of technological innovation, important information usually travels pretty quickly among peers in the Millennial generation. This rule applies almost universally, but there is one exception that sometimes slows the flow of information: the underground commute on the DC metro. On the evening of Monday, September 8th, the Capital One Team serving at Leckie Elementary School boarded the trains and commuted to different parts of the city on our ventures home. By the time we got off the train we each had an invitation from the White House to join President Obama on Friday, September 12th for a celebration of AmeriCorps’ 20th Anniversary. That’s when the buzz surrounding the event started and even after attending the event on Friday, we are all still floating on Cloud 9.
We arrived at Freedom Plaza on Friday morning, just a few blocks from the White House, and met together as a City Year corps to debrief before walking toward the security check-in. Before passing through security and entering the South Lawn the corps had a ton of energy and the Leckie team had fun leading some of our favorite City Year power greetings. There were approximately 1,000 AmeriCorps volunteers and guests scheduled to be at the event, but we made it through security seamlessly and even got to walk through a wing of the White House on our way to President Obama’s backyard. There, we mingled with other City Year teams and AmeriCorps volunteers, but also spent a lot of time taking selfies. Some of us even had the chance to chat and pose for photo ops with City Year, Inc. CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown! Another highlight from the morning was when Gordon Seltz said, “Good morning” to a well-dressed gentleman as he passed by, to which the man responded with a genuine “Hi, how are you doing?” During President Obama’s speech we found out that the kind man was Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, the first AmeriCorps alumnus to be elected to the US Senate.
The most memorable moments of the day, though, were the inspiring speeches delivered by President Clinton and President Obama. After being sworn in as AmeriCorps members by Wendy Spencer, the CEO for the Corporation of National and Community Service, President Clinton took the podium. President Clinton established AmeriCorps in 1994 and spoke about the genesis of AmeriCorps while giving a special shout out to City Year. He spoke about the diversity of AmeriCorps and said, “This is no time to be pessimistic about America’s future. Look at you. Look at the rainbow of diversity united to advance our common humanity. That is the secret of our future.” He was talking about all of AmeriCorps but his message resonated especially with our proud and diverse team at Leckie Elementary.
Then, President Obama approached the podium to give his remarks. He noted some of the important figures in the crowd like Congressman John Lewis, who is near and dear to City Year Washington, DC, before diving into what AmeriCorps means to him. He spoke about the First Lady’s involvement in Public Allies, which was one of the first organizations to receive an AmeriCorps grant and said the “Obama family has been on board with AmeriCorps from the start.” President Obama also told us that citizenship is not just “words on a page, not just rights and privileges, but duties and responsibility.” These were truly special words that we hope will guide us through this year at Leckie Elementary, and we hope that our peers at City Year Washington, DC and across the country will remember these words through their successes and failures this year. The ceremony ended and the Presidents made their way down toward the crowd to greet the AmeriCorps volunteers. Several Leckie teammates were fortunate enough to shake hands with both Presidents and we all felt very honored to be recognized by these men who have done great service for our country.
Andrew Mitrisin and Michael Schwartz, authors, are City Year AmeriCorps members serving on the Capital One Team at Leckie Elementary School.