WASHINGTON – The alarm went off in the early morning hours on Inauguration Day. After an hour's trek from her hotel,North Dakota native,Anna Nykolayow,21,arrived on the National Mall at 4 a.m.
She and the group of four friends she met at an exclusive conference made it to a coveted non-ticketed standing area amid throngs of spectators. More than a million people descended on the area around the Capitol.
“It was amazing that we were so up front and close to something that was so much bigger than the rest of us,” she said. “I had such a great spot. I'm really lucky.”
The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities student was among a select group of collegiate scholars chosen to be part of the University Presidential Inauguration Conference. In addition to having access to the inauguration and following celebrations,the group attended speeches by influential figures in media and politics,including TV journalists Luke Russert and Tucker Carlson and political consultants and analysts James Carville,Mary Matalin and Paul Begala.
However,she said that former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was her favorite speaker.
“He inspired a lot of people to strive for their best,” Nykolayow said.
Powell,who said that he had a 2.0 grade point average in school before joining the military,eventually became a four star general and secretary of state under President George W. Bush.
He conveyed to the room of “future leaders” that having a vision and working hard would get them wherever they wanted to go,she said. That remained the focus of the conference: the young generation being able to act as a positive catalyst for the future.
Seeing President Barack Obama echo the sentiment during his inaugural address only strengthened Nykolayow's motivation to join his admonition that “it's going to take all of you to help fix our country.” The entire conference acted as inspiration,but Obama's remarks pulled it all together.
“The people here are talented students,” she said. “Who knows what the people I met will go on to do.”
Hailing from the Buffalo City,Nykolayow realizes that she is one of few.
“I was honored to be a representative from North Dakota; it's such a long way away. It's amazing to be from North Dakota and represent my home state,my home town,” she said.
And Nykolayow made sure that Jamestown stayed connected,calling her grandmother – Patty Neva,who helped raise her after her mother died – from the swearing-in ceremony,hoping to be seen on television. Her father,Andrew Nykolayow,is a farmer.
Having been a Great Plains resident primed Nykolayow for inaugural weather that tourists and Washingtonians alike lamented. With temperatures hovering in the mid- to low-20s,she remained unfazed.
“It's a lot warmer than North Dakota,” she said. “We've had so much snow,too. We had over 41 inches. It kept blizzarding.”
The day before the inauguration,Washington experienced light snow flurries,but the day of the swearing-in welcomed clear skies and sunny faces.
“People were so happy to be there,” she said. “Just being able to look at this and tell my grandchildren that I was apart of something historic for our country. I am able to say that I was actually there.”