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IN HONOR OF PRESIDENTS DAY
My First Visit to the White House
February is a month chock-full of historical achievements and celebrations. From the more recognizable commemorations, such as Black History Month and George Washington’s birthday, to the lesser known but equally important celebrations, like Rosa Parks’ birthday or Susan B. Anthony Day, the second month of the year holds significant importance in the American social conscience. One holiday that has a rather interesting history for both the nation at large and for me personally is Presidents Day. While it started out as a commemoration of our first president’s birthday, Congress proposed a measure in the late 1960s known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in order to add to the number of three-day weekends for the nation’s workforce. The change also included a provision to combine the celebration of Washington’s birthday with that of Abraham Lincoln’s, whose birthday is also in February. Whenever I think of Presidents Day and the insurmountable historical achievements of our forefathers, I’m reminded of the two trips I took to Washington, D.C. There, I was lucky enough to immerse myself in the rich stories of our country’s formative years surrounded by beautiful neoclassical monuments and iconic buildings.
is a political science and government teacher. C-SPAN invited her to the Capitol for a conference, so we made a trip of it. Walking along the sidewalks up to the building, I was immediately taken aback by how different the White House looks in real life compared to photos. Even if you know the precise measurements of the building, once you’re standing in front of it, the size and scope still blows you away. In order to actually tour the White House, you have to sign up approximately six weeks in advance and provide enough information for the Secret Service to know exactly who you are. Once you’re inside, you’ll notice that there aren’t any docents or tour guides. So while there is a distinct path, you’re more or less on a self-guided tour. My wife and I started on the ground floor of the East Wing in the visitors’ entrance, stopped in the Garden Room, traversed through the East Colonnade — a corridor connecting the body of the East Wing to the residence — and made our way through the china rooms and Family Theater. As we meandered through the halls held up by pillars reminiscent of old Roman architecture and classically aesthetic ideals, I couldn’t help but lose track of time. Regardless of who is president, this building still serves as a miraculous kind of living museum. There is so much to learn and even more to commemorate.
My wife and I agree that seeing the Secret Service was the coolest surprise of the tour. Because the White House no longer has docents, members of the Secret Service standing guard in the building will often answer visitors’ questions. At one point, we spent almost half an hour talking to one agent. He enjoyed my wife’s curious questions so much that he took us behind the ropes so we could see a painting of George Washington saved from the War of 1812. The agent then explained that while most people think of the Secret Service as protection for the appointed president, Abraham Lincoln actually signed the organization into law as currency protection before he died. Their primary responsibility was to detect counterfeit money. Now they serve as guards in the White House only if they get the highly sought-after chance. We learned even more great information on my second trip in 2018, when we brought our kids along. Even though they were only 3 and 5 years old, I could see the wonder in their eyes as they stared up at the Washington Monument and various war memorials. If you ever have the opportunity to take a trip to our nation’s capital, I highly recommend you visit. Even if you aren’t a huge history buff, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
–Kyle Matthews 1 (248) 543-0340
In the summer of 2017, I visited the White House for the first time. My wife
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