RHS Students Enjoy Trip of a Lifetime
New York City for two days plus Washington, D.C., for five days (including the Presidential Inaugural), multiplied by 44 walking miles equals a set of lifetime experiences for 46 students and 16 adults.
But who's counting?
Rachel McNamee, Rector High School history teacher and tour leader, counted heads in her sleep. So did Nate Henderson, principal of Rector Elementary, and teachers Belinda Matheney and Lance Mabrey. School leaders wanted to come home with the same students who boarded the planes on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
After such a momentous trip, however, the students who departed from Memphis International are not quite the same as the ones who got off the buses Sunday evening, Jan. 22.
These students and "the adults who tagged along," said Jamie Simmons, saw everything, all the "sights and sounds of the Big Apple. The kids did not let a few sprinkles slow them down." Equipped with ponchos and hooded rain attire, the group stopped first at Grand Central Station. What a perfect place for a first stop: "the hustle and bustle of the city unfolded before them," Simmons said.
They had lunch at Central Station. Several students and teachers, including Matheney, were intrigued by the Whispering Wall. The architecture allows one person on each end of the wall to whisper into the corner and be heard by the other at the far corner.
Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Trump Tower, and Central Park highlighted one of the first days of adventure. Along with St. Patrick's Cathedral, which occupies two acres in mid-town Manhattan, the group loved Central Park's expanse, beauty and stories. "Just about everybody was able to name a movie or a television show that had been filmed in and around Central Park," Simmons said. Matheney and McNamee mentioned the security posted at both the front and the rear entrances to Trump Tower, as President-elect Donald Trump was in New York when the group was posing for photos. In addition, Trump's plane arrived in New York at LaGuardia Airport at the same time as one of the planes carrying the Rector assemblage. The students saw Trump's plane from their own airplane windows as it taxied on the tarmac.
Thomas Anderson mentioned the serenity of early morning on the Hudson River Cruise. The sun's rays on the water, the early morning quiet made the cruise memorable for him. In addition, the group was able to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. "The cruise line pointed out to the passengers the pier where the Titanic was scheduled to dock," Anderson said.
Dominique Coln was impressed by Times Square with its lights, flashing billboards and its designation as the Crossroads of the World. A photo there pulled the group together and someone began the well-known Arkansas cheer. The entire group of 62 Called the Hogs at Times Square and at several other locations. Matheney added that a woman from the crowd came up and said, "I'm from Arkansas!" Dalton Murray also mentioned that Times Square was "the best part."
The ball that ushered in the new year was still in place and the group saw that and more. Matison Dean loved the hubbub of the "big city." She and others also thought it especially neat to see Wall Street and a most unusual street sign near Trinity Church. There, for all to see, was Rector Street, suggesting home is just a heel-click away.
The longest running Broadway play, Phantom of the Opera, entertained the group at the Majestic Theatre. Even Henderson had to confess that he enjoyed the Phantom production, the elaborate staging, the workmanship of the extravaganza. Dean and Dustin Owens also enjoyed the phenomenon that is Phantom on Broadway. "When you see it on the stage with the costumes and the big production, you get a better sense of the emotions of the whole thing." Dean liked the "awesome sets and the flow of it all...on Broadway." When the enormous chandelier began to drop from the ceiling, Owens thought for sure it was going to knock someone out. The tour guides surprised the attendees with chunks of cheesecake. Not just slices of any cheesecake, but slabs of Junior's New York-style cheesecake.
Without a doubt, however, the most sobering and profound visit for the students and the adults focused on the 9-11 Memorial. Henderson commented, "There were no sounds. No one talked. The massive museum spoke; everyone listened and looked, trying to take in the enormity of what had happened there." Matheney added that she "didn't know if she could walk through the museum. Though the years have passed, the catastrophe is still fresh with me. While I did not lose a relative, I did lose peace on that day. I felt a wave of awe and sadness washing over me as I walked into the vastness of the displays."
Several of the students went on to mention how the museum is built around those relics that were not reduced to rubble. One flight of stairs did not fall. They are in place with escalators running on either side. It was down this flight of stairs that any survivors traveled to safety, prior to the collapse of the towers which were joined together by underground, concrete parking garages.
The towers' lower decks and walls stand, though underground. The displays incorporate various remaining pieces of the twin towers, including the wreckage that was the first hook-and-ladder truck on the scene. All responders on that fire truck were killed when the towers fell. Henderson and McNamee, tour leader, mentioned that at some points they felt as if the group might be "intruding on a family's grief." This museum's profound impact on the students, the teachers, on everyone left no one unchanged.
The focal point within the memorial is the perpetual fountain; water spills into a four-sided funnel taking it to the location of the lowest parking garage. Water cascades down the four walls where images of the dead form the backdrop. The only sounds heard are those of news footage or recorded memories of surviving loved ones speaking of their family member's life, the life taken in the collapse of the twin towers. Henderson went on to say, "It gives you chills."
The group spent two days in New York City but could have stayed far longer, giving NYC its own tour, commented McNamee, who had led two other groups on similar tours in previous years. This trip was her second to include an Inauguration of the President of the United States.
Upon arrival in the nation's capital, the group headed for the Smithsonian Museums. An entire week could be spent touring these capsules of American history, but the tour highlighted the favorite sections. Tabor Trail said he really enjoyed the Air and Space Museum and wished he could have had more time there. He and others were also mesmerized by the pomp and ceremony associated with the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
That evening, a party atmosphere prevailed at one of the Inaugural Balls held in celebration of the next day's events. The Rector group had no trouble taking to the dance floor with the girls saying, "It was sorta like Prom." Everybody was dancing, "even Mrs. Matheney and Mrs. McNamee danced to the Old School songs." The group formed a Conga line and did the Electric Slide, certainly "old school."
Friday morning, Inauguration Day, dawned and the buses loaded up for the trip to the National Mall, the area between the stately United States Capitol and the Washington Monument. Security measures were high and some streets had been blockaded to assure the safety of everyone attending the extravagant event. Because of security, two-hour waits to be admitted to the Mall were routine.
While waiting in line for security screening, the motorcade carrying the future vice-president Mike Pence drove past the Rector group. Murray said, "Mr. Pence waved at me. Ok, we all waved and he waved back. Everybody waved; it was a highlight."
Once at the event, the group witnessed history, something few Americans get to experience. From huge screens strategically placed along the mall, the orchestrated events didn't miss a cue. McNamee commented that she sensed a different atmosphere for the Inauguration. While some of the students said it reminded them of "a pep rally," others said they were shocked at the behavior of some. Traffic did delay arrivals and departures and some streets were closed because of llamas, released for the single purpose of disruption.
While in Washington, D.C., the tour groups were able to see the Pentagon memorial and realize how many more people gave their lives on that day in September, 2001. A plane full of civilians, one family with two young daughters, crashed into a section of the Pentagon, killing all aboard the plane and hundreds inside the Pentagon office building.
The memorial features angled benches that point skyward if the victim was on the airplane, or toward the Pentagon, if the victim died inside the building. Names, birthdates, family members are noted on each bench. As is true with the 9-11 Memorial, white roses are placed at the site on the victims' birthdays. Sarah Isom was intrigued by this memorial and by the vast numbers of people who were everywhere. She also said, "I can't believe we did all we did and got to see so much."
Each of the students noted that the war memorials were both fascinating and emotional. "At the Korean War memorial, there are faces everywhere. You walk around the memorial and faces are always looking at you," Owens said. "It does make you appreciate all the men and women who died for us all," he continued.
Every memorial to war and victims of war, presidents, soldiers and survivors held special meaning for individual students. So much to see and so little time to see it; the entire group occasionally split into three or four smaller tours. Adults led small interest groups to see other sites. What seemed to be unending walks took a toll on some of the students, one due to recent surgery, another due to the unfortunate choice of wearing new shoes, still others just not up to walking 36 long blocks from Central Park to an Italian feast for supper. Miles upon miles, blocks upon blocks, New York and Washington D.C. call for good walking shoes and stamina. "It was great to see those buses. We were exhausted," said everyone while complimenting the tour guides and their easy way of working with large groups.
On Sunday, as the group prepared to depart, Henderson convinced the tour guides to stop at the U.S. Capitol and the National Archives so everyone could see the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights in the Rotunda. They also were able to walk up that huge stairway to the U.S. Supreme Court building and drive by the White House. Most of the time, the 62 in the Rector tour group walked right in for their last glance at United States history up close and personal.
Murray and Isom summed up the group's appreciative assessment when they echoed each other, "When we're home, sometimes it doesn't see real...imagining that we were actually there."
Kim Isom, a Rector School Board member and one of the adults who made the trip, thanked all those in the community who provided the tremendous support needed to make it possible. She also thanked those who provided transportation to and from the airport.
Rector Students and Adults attending were--
Leigh Ann Jones