WASHINGTON – Nearly 10,000 youngsters ages 4 to 18 saw pop artists Hillary Duff and Ruben Studdard at an inauguration week concert Tuesday evening,but they left with visions of something less accessible than even famous musicians: the President.
At one of the earliest inaugural events,“America's Future Rocks Today: A Call to Service,” President George Bush concluded the concert by praising young people who do volunteer work. He and first lady Laura Bush also waved to their daughters,Jenna and Barbara,who were in the audience at the D.C. Armory.
The two-hour concert was geared toward the youngest Americans,featuring rock and R&B stars like Studdard,3 Doors Down,Jason Cabrera and JoJo.
Between acts,children and teens were featured in videos in which they explained their community service.
Their projects ranged from refurbishing bicycles for underprivileged kids to building playgrounds in parks.
Alexandra Amend,now 11,chose to overcome stage fright when she gave her first impromptu violin concert shortly after Sept. 11,2001,to a crowd of 500 people. Her mother collected donations for the American Red Cross as she played. Since then,Alexandra dedicated her chance to play the national anthem at a professional baseball game to a missing soldier from her home town,Cincinnati. In four years,she has raised $7,000 for charity.
Some community service organizations,including Habitat for Humanity,gave out information in a tent next to the armory set up with heating against the city's frigid temperatures,a DJ and arcade games.
“No matter what you think about the rest of the policies,I think it's great that they are bringing students here to get exposed to all the different ways that they can get involved in helping their communities,” said Erin McHugh,handing out pamphlets and temporary tattoos for Take Pride in America,a government environmental program.
Struggling to speak over the recorded music in the tent,some of the older students from a club called the Presidential Youth Inauguration Conference for 16- to 18-year olds,said they were not there for the music as much as for the conversations.
“I feel honored to be here because our nation is so capable of changing power without any revolutions or civil wars,” said Sarah Fitzpatrick,of Newton,N.J.
Traveling with an educational group called Close-Up Washington,Christian Waite,a high school sophomore from Mobile,Ala.,learned how different her perspective was from some of the people she's met on her trip.
“Gun control is a big thing here with the liberals,” she explained. “At home we just use [guns] for deer hunting.”
She said she had found “new respect” for others' views. “Because I realized that if I was brought up that way I might believe those things too,” she said.
All but one of the concert acts were clean cut,but the lead singer of Fuel,Brett Scallions,let slip an epithet,for which he apologized. But his skintight jeans painted with stars and stripes and a salute the flag before he strummed the last power chords were more patriotic.
The most enthusiastic applause of the evening came at the very end of the concert,when all the performers stood among the children and teens who were honored for their service and Bush joined them to thank the volunteers for helping “one heart,one soul and one conscience at a time.”