Saturday, January 24, 2009


Well, that pretty well sums up my experience in Washington. Just before I sign off and end this blog I want to say a couple things in reflection of my experience and thoughts.

Some of you may ask why this was such a special and monumental experience for me, considering that I am not American and really have little or no ties to the US. Other than the obvious - he is the first minority President of the US, he is a very young President, and Canada is highly dependent on the US and has strong ties with the US - why does this experience matter?

Well, when I see ordinary people doing extraordinary things it inspires me. When I look at Barack Obama's background, his struggles, his vision and his perseverance, this inspires me. Obama success reminds me to always pursue your dreams and fight to make them come true, despite whatever obstacles may be in your way and despite the cynics and discouragement you encounter. As Beyonce said at the Inaugural Youth Ball, "Obama inspires me to be smarter, be better, do more, get more involved and instigate change."

Lastly, Inauguration Day was particularly special because over 2 million people, from around the country and world, gathered for one common cause with hope, excitement and inspiration in their hearts. On this day, there was nothing but unity, smiles, laughter, and hope amongst the crowd regardless of race, age, sex, background etc. All stigmas and prejudices were left behind as one man managed to unite millions of people on this day.

In conclusion, thank you for reading my blog and thank you to everyone you made this trip possible. I hope that in reading this you managed to take a little something away from it – possibly hope, inspiration and the drive to excel in whatever endeavours you choose.

Day 4 - INAUGURATION DAY (January 20, 2009)

Fast Facts About Inauguration Day:

  • 240,000 swearing-in tickets available
  • 10,000 buses going into D.C.

  • 5,000 inauguration parade tickets available - sold out in less than a minute

  • parade included: 7,500 active military members, 4,000 people from the National Guard, 225 surviving World War

  • 8,000 police officers
  • 10 inaugural balls
  • 2 million visitors to D.C. attended the inauguration

My inauguration day began with a 4am wake up. I walked down to the Hilton to meet a friend, Laura, and we began to head downtown. All the streets were closed to all traffic except pedestrian traffic and the metro was jam packed with people. We decided to walk from our hotels to capital hill - 4. 5 mile walk.

During our walk we stopped for a much needed Starbucks break and bought some "little hotties" (which are little hand warmers that generate heat for up to 8 hours that you can put in your gloves/shoes) to help us brave the cold.

As we got closer to Capitol Hill the crowds continued to thicken, at one point you couldn't even see the ground below your feet. The streets were lined with vendors selling anything and everything that you could possibly imagine with Obama's face or name on it.

Although it was cold and dark, the streets were filled with excitement and enthusiasm.We arrived at the National Mall - where all of the Smithsonian Museums are, in addition to the Washington Monument and Capital hill at around 7am. We wandered through the crowds for a couple hours, scouting out the best possible spot and viewpoint of Capitol Hill.

The University Presidential Inaugural Conference (UPIC) had reserved two Smithsonian museums where scholars could go to view the swearing in or just for some hot chocolate and to warm up. Laura and I decide to head to the National Museum of the American Indian at around 8:30am. We had some hot chocolate, took a bathroom break and watched the countdown to the swearing-in for about an hour and a half.

At 10:30am we headed back outside to our special spot that we had scouted out. We managed to get as close as you could without having priority tickets and stood on 3rd Street SW and Smithsonian. We were about 3/4 of a mile from the steps of Capitol Hill.

As the time wound down more and more excitement and energy filled the air. People who had camped out on the sidewalks or were sleeping on the streets, awoke with giant smiles on their faces. People began to climb trucks, fences, street signs, traffic lights and trees all to get a better view of Capitol Hill. The National Mall was lined with jumbotrons and speakers so that we could all see the ceremony.

I personally climbed a giant truck which was occupied by many others to get a better view of Capitol Hill. Everyone was cold and hungry but as it became closer and closer to 11:30am all those worries seemed to dissipate. As helicopters flew over Capitol Hill and Obama's appeared on the steps 2 million people chanted in unison "Yes We Can!"

When the canons began to fire to mark the swearing in of the new president, the entire crowd shouted "Obama." As Obama began his speech, people were in tears and silence blanketed the crowd. All 2 million people, young and old, stood in awe as he spoke.

We had been up since 4 in morning all for these grand 30 minutes as Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States. Every single moment in the cold, the craziness and insanity was all worth it. Our legs were tired and stomachs hungry, but those 30 minutes were more fulfilling and exciting than Laura and I could have every imagined.

We had never seen so many people come together peacefully and in unity. Each and every person standing shoulder to shoulder with hope, inspiration and happiness. Being Canadians, we felt as though Barack Obama had instilled an new found hope in the people of his country and it was evident from the smiles, the tears, the laughter and the chanting.

After the swearing in ceremony we decided to head to the Hard Rock Cafe (one of the many places reserved for our conference to watch the parade). However, we never made it to the Hard Rock Cafe and ended up walking 4 hours to get back to our hotel. All of the roads were closed to ALL traffic. Secret Service had closed them so that Obama and Biden could make it to the White House. This meant we were stuck in a standstill amongst 2 million other people.

The only way to get out of this mess was to go south and then west and come back up north to our hotel. Even the highways were closed and there were a flock of people migrating south on them. The army and police advised us to take the highway and go south and then come back up north from a different entrance to D.C. in order to avoid the National Mall. In doing so we ending up walking to Arlington, Virginia and back. Getting back to the hotel was not an easy task and at times it was frustrating and tiring. However, after 5 hours of walking and over 20 miles that day we made it back to our hotel. We had quite an adventure and loved every moment of it. At the time we were frustrated with the army and police and their lack of knowledge when it came to road closures but looking back, Laura and I loved it. We had fun bonding and meeting new and unique people and I don't think we will ever get to walk in the middle of a giant freeway again.

That evening we got dressed and headed to a private inaugural ball that the National Air and Space Museum. It was a lot of fun and dinner was great. We were able to navigate through the entire museum at our own leisure and they had a live band. Every single scholar was exhausted but we all found the energy to enjoying Inauguration Night. We did get a taste of the 10 official inaugural balls as many were taking place at our conference hotels.

I think it is safe to say that the night of January 20, 2009, nobody in D.C. slept. The streets were filled with people and excitement and the roads still remained closed as everyone partied the night away to celebrate this moment in US history.

Al Gore's Address (January 19, 2009)

The basic gist of Al Gore's address was about the importance of taking care of our environment and global warming prevention. He explained that the 3 most important crises in the US right now are the Iraq war, economic recession and global warming. He tied all of these threads to the global need and greed for oil. He claimed that if we were able to use renewable energy sources rather than coal and fuel than all three of these issues would be eliminated. The R&D for renewable energy sources would create jobs, stimulate the economy, bring soldiers back from war and help the environment.

Al Gore explained the magnitude of global warming and how it was affecting our daily lives. He claimed that this was an "inconvenient truth" and that it was up to us as the youth of the future to take this knowledge into our own hands and use it.

He explained that knowledge quickly get outdated and that what we know as youth and the current generation our parents and grandparents never knew and will never know. He encouraged us to use this knew knowledge and what we know about the world we are growing up in to instigate change and help the planet.

Al Gore stated his firm belief that if we were to help the planet we would be able to help ourselves and many of these other man-made crises would disappear.

Lastly, Al Gore explained that for the first time this is a global crises that doesn't just affect one country or continent or hemisphere but it affects the whole world. For the first time in history, all 6 billion people on the planet - the human species - is affected by the same issue. In order to solve this crises he explained that for the first time in history, the human species will have to unite and make joint global decisions such that we can save our planet and move forward in our lives.

Overall, Al Gore's talk was interesting and environmentally motivating. However, it was slightly too predictable and many of us expected that he would talk about more than just the environment. Nonetheless, he was a captivating speaker and it was an honour to hear him speak. He had a lot of insightful points and delivered them in a strong and assertive way.

Well this marks the end of Day 3, Monday January 19,2009. Tomorrow is INAUGURATION DAY, the day we have all been waiting for and the reason why 2 million people flocked to Washington D.C. The next post is going to be a great one, so get excited!

About Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore is Chairman of Current TV, an Emmy award winning, independently owned cable and satellite television nonfiction network for young people based on viewer-created content and citizen journalism.

Al Gore is a member of the board of directs of Apple and a senior advisor to Google. He is a Visiting Professor at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and chairs the Alliance for Climate Protection, a non-profit organization designed to help solve the climate crisis.

Al Gore was elected to the U.S. House of Representative in 1976, 1978, 1980, and 1982 and the U.S. Senate in 1984 and 1990. He was inaugurated as the forty-fifth vice president of the United States on January 20, 1993, and served eight years. During the Administration, Al Gore was a central member of President Clinton's economic team. He served as President of the Senate, and Cabinet member, a member of the National Security Council, and as the leader of a wide range of Administration initiatives.

He is the author of bestsellers Earth in the Balance and An Inconvenient Truth and is the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary. His current book, The Assault on Reason, is an indictment of the Bush-led radical Right's disdain for the principles of reasoned decision-making, and a reckoning with the degradation of the public sphere that facilitates their rule of unreason.

Day 3 - Washington D.C. (January 19, 2009)

Today was another hectic but exciting day. I got a bit of a sleep in because the sessions began at 8:30am this morning. Today's session formats were similar to yesterdays with two session times, 8:30am and 10:00am. You were given the opportunity to choose any session to attend. The following sessions were available:

Exploring the Landscape: Current Issue Seminars

Interpreting the Constitution: The Supreme Court

Self-Expression and Democracy: The Role of Writing and Poetry
Robert Pinsky, Former U.S. Poet Laureate

America’s Role in the World: U.S. Foreign Policy
Peter Beinart, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Jonah Goldberg, Founding Editor, National Review Online

In God We Trust: Faith and Politics
Steve Waldman, Founder,

Running the Race: Campaign Strategy and Analysis
Jon Seaton, Regional Political Director, McCain-Palin 2008
Sarah Simmons, Director of Strategy, McCain-Palin 2008

Professional Civic Engagement: Careers in Public Service
George Selim, Policy Advisor, Department of Homeland Security
Max Stier, President, Partnership for Public Service

Making Change at the Grassroots Level:Social Entrepreneurship
Scott Beale, Founder, Atlas Service Corps
Max Schorr, Founder, GOOD Magazine
David Smith, Executive Director,

National Conference on Citizenship

Behind the Sound: Music Business and Marketing

Jami Stigliano, Director of Marketing, Zomba Label Group

Protecting the Environment:Green Issues and Innovations
Frances Beinecke, President, Natural Resources Defense Council

An Ongoing Struggle: Women and Politics
Kim Gandy, President, National Organization for Women

Historical Parallels: The Legacy of FDR and the New Deal
James Roosevelt, Jr., President and Chief Executive Officer,
Tufts Health Plan

Left, Right and Center:Understanding Political Philosophy

Responding to the Crisis: The Economy

What’s Happening in Pop Culture:An Insider’s Perspective

Dalton Ross, Editor-At-Large, Entertainment Weekly

Digital Democracy: The Web’s Impact on Politics
Mike Krempasky, Founder,

Energizing the Vote: Young Leaders in Politics
Taylor Riddle, Delegate, Democratic National Convention
Ashley Barbera, Member, College Republican National Committee
Kimberly Ahern, Delegate, Democratic National Convention

The sessions were interesting and informative but weren't as inspiring and engaging as Colin Powell's address yesterday. Nonetheless, I still learnt a lot and gained more knowledge on US politics.

After the sessions, which finished at 11:00am, we were given a short break and were able to pick up boxed lunches to take on the bus. At 11:15am we boarded the buses and headed to the University of Maryland to hear Al Gore, Former Vice President of the United States of America and Nobel Peace Prize Winner.

Stay tuned for more details on Al Gore and his address in my next post!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Day 2 Continued- Washington D.C. (January 18, 2009)

After Colin Powell's address all 5000 scholars partaking in the University Presidential Inaugural Conference headed back to Washington . At the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, several hour sessions took place for the rest of the day. Each session focused on a different issue with various speakers. All scholars were given the opportunity to attend two different sessions. The sessions available for attendance were as follows:

Debating The Nation's Future: Political Panels

All’s Fair in Love, War and Politics
James Carville, Democratic Strategist & CNN Political Contributor
Mary Matalin, Republican Strategist & Former Presidential Advisor

Caught in the Crossfire
Paul Begala, Democratic Strategist & CNN Political Contributor Tucker Carlson, Senior Political Correspondent, MSNBC

Headlines and Deadlines: Press Panel

After the sessions at 12:45pm we all had lunch and then got changed out of professional attire into jeans. The plan for the afternoon was to head down to Lincoln Memorial to watch the Presidential Inaugural Opening Celebration (Concert). My roommate, Ariana, and I went to the National Mall where we watched several performers including Usher, Shakira, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder etc. There were tons of people and it was difficult to see the stage (steps of Lincoln Memorial). However, feeling the excitement and unity in the crowd as we were all itching for Inauguration day was a great feeling.

After the concert I walked around downtown with my roommate and observed the sights and sounds of D.C. including the White House, Capitol Hill, the Federal Reserve, and the Old Post Office. We also walked the main streets of D.C. including Constitution, Independence, and Pennsylvania. It was a lot of fun and I met many interesting people during my adventure that day.

Colin Powell's Address (January 18, 2009)

General Colin L. Powell Former Secretary of State gave an hour address beginning at 8:00 am on January 18, 2009. Below I have tried to capture snippets of what he said based on the notes I took while he spoke:

"All people fail, even leaders fail, every day. The important thing is to analyze and understand the failure and correct it. Take the blame and fix your failure and learn from it. Then bundle up this failure and throw it over your shoulder and don't look back. Look forwards and think about today and tomorrow, don't look into the past. Always look through your front windshield and not the back"

"You don't know where life is going to lead you, but don't worry about it. For now, gather all the education you can. Learn to love, to serve, to live and to work. Once you have done that, reach down, reach back and reach across to serve others. Put service in your heart and make it an essential part of your being."

"Live lives of moral and physical courage. You develop a reputation whether you know it or not. Work hard to become a person people see as trustworthy with integrity and respect. "

"Believe in yourselves, in the depth of your heart and soul."

"Understand your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. You have to have people who tell you what you are good at and what you are not so good at. When I was Secretary of State I had a private cellphone that no one had the number to except those who were very close and dear to my heart. No one had permission to answer this phone under any circumstances. After every decision I made and public appearance I would get calls on this phone. My trusted advisers - my friends, would tell me how I was doing. They would tell me what I was doing well and not so well. You need people in life and as a leader to tell you when you have no clothes on. Well I didn't quite mean it that way, being naked, but I am sure you understand what I mean."

"Build on your strengths, compensate on your weaknesses."

The general gist of his speech:

The general gist of Colin Powell's speech was to enforce the importance of being the youth of tomorrow. He talked about the importance of leadership and the key characteristics of a leader - trustworthiness, integrity, and respect. He explained that to be all that you can be you must believe in yourself completely and down to the very core, with no doubts. He explained how we all have doubts and insecurities but that the should no get in the way of all that you can be.

For me, what really motivated and inspired me was the way in which he spoke about his success. He explained how he grew up in the Bronx, with little money and opportunity. How, he never dreamed of becoming all that he is and that at age 10 he dreamt of being a teenager not of being Secretary of State. Colin explained how he was an ordinary boy from an ordinary family but he did extraordinary things. Most importantly, Colin explained that you don't have to be a genius to be successful, you just have to want to be successful and you have to fight and try and believe in yourself with every fibre in your being.

Overall, hearing him speak was the most moving and motivational 1 hour of my time in Washington. He inspired and empowered all of the youth who attended this conference to do more and be more and to believe in ourselves.

His address was also very funny and captivating and it was a pleasure to hear him speak.

About Colin Powell

General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.) became the 65th Secretary of State on January 20, 2001. As he stated at his confirmation hearing, the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy during his tenure was that "America stands ready to help any country that wishes to join the democratic world."

General Powell brought extensive experience with him to his office. Before becoming Secretary of State, Colin Powell served as a key aide to the Secretary of Defense and as National Security Advisor to President Reagan. He also served 35 years in the United States Army, rising to the rank of Four-Star General and serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-1993). During this time he oversaw 28 crises including the Panama intervention of 1989 and Operation Desert Storm in the victorious 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Born in New York City on April 5, 1937, General Powell was raised in the South Bronx. His parents immigrated to the United States from Jamaica. General Powell was educated in the New York City public schools, graduating from Morris High School and City College of New York (CCNY).

General Powell is the recipient of numerous US military and civilian awards and decorations including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and two Presidential Medals of Freedom.

Day 2 - Washington D.C. (January 18, 2009)

Sunday morning commenced with an early start, one far too early for a weekend. I woke up at 4:30am and got dressed in professional attire to head down to breakfast for 5:15am.

I met my roommate that morning since she was already asleep the night I arrived. Her name was Ariana and she attends DePaul University in Chicago and is studying acting. She was a very nice and friendly person and it was a pleasure to have her as my roommate. We got along well and later toured D.C. together.

At breakfast I met Ash, a girl from London studying International Relations at the London School of Economics. I met her on the plane to D.C. before and we had checked into the hotel together. We agreed to reconnect the next morning and head to breakfast together.

After breakfast at around 6 am, Ash and I hopped on one of the 170 shuttle buses allocated for our conference. We head to the University of Marlyand to hear General Colin L. Powell Former Secretary of State speak.

I have decided to create another post especially for Colin Powell's address because it was such an inspiring and life changing moment for me. Stay tuned!

Day 1 - Washington D.C. (January 17, 2009)

My first day in Washington was relatively hectic. It consisted of first arriving in Washington and then heading to the hotel to check in. There was a flight delay in Toronto, due to extreme security restrictions, which meant I checked in to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel much later than expected.

That evening when I arrived at the hotel I had the opportunity to attend a session called Congressional Youth Leadership Council (CYLC) Connections: Alumni & Friend Finder, where I was able to find past friends and colleagues I had met on a previous conference (the Global Youth Leadership Conference - GYLC) in Vienna. I did not manage to find anyone I knew from GYLC due to the sheer volume of people - 5000.

I had met several people on the plane to Washington who were attending the conference and had experienced the same flight issues as I had. Since we landed late we missed the buffet dinner at the hotel and decided to go to this nice Italian restaurant called Trattoria Italiana.

Dinner was great and provided an opportunity to bond and meet some really neat people. My evening ended at around 11pm and I decided to call it a night because I knew I had several exciting but hectic days ahead of me.

About The University Presidential Inaugural Conference (UPIC)

The University Presidential Inaugural Conference (UPIC) was a program created in honour of the 56th US Inauguration, bringing together alumni from other Congressional Youth Leadership Council programs. Being an alumni of their Global Youth Leadership Conference I was invited to attend the event.

Selection for this program was based upon demonstrated leadership skills, a strong interest in the American political system, and the motivation and vision to instigate and create positive change.

Keynote speakers at this private inaugural conference included Vice President Al Gore, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, James Carville (Democratic Strategies & CNN Political Contributor), Mary Matalin (Republic Strategist & Former Presidential Advisor), Paul Begala (Political Analyst & CNN Commentator) and many more.


Dear Family, Friends & Colleges,

As many of you know, I recently went to Washington D.C. to attend 56th US Inauguration of the 44th President, Barack Obama. This was an empowering, motivating and life changing experience for me, and I wanted to share this with all of you.

Thank you for all of those who helped make this trip possible and for everyone’s support and guidance.

With Kind Regards,
Safia Rahemtulla