My dear friend and Guest blogger Paul Wilkinson had a birds eye view of Congressman Aaron Schock's swearing in ceremony last week in Washington, DC. Here, Paul shares his insights and his amazing original photos.
I am one of the lucky ones that was able to fly out with Aaron Schock to his Congressional Swearing in. It is an honor that I will remember for all my days. On the trip was an interesting cross section of supporters, wealthy and not, Republican, Democrat, old and young, family, friends, and a few of Aaron's mentors. Most of these people I had met on the campaign trail along the way. I did make a number of new and lasting friends.
The experience can only be described as a whirlwind. Aaron and his staff clearly had worked very hard to make the events as special to his family and guests as to himself. Those efforts enhanced the experience. Since we were only there 50 hours it still seems a surreal experience. We flew out on a chartered DC-9 with about 100 people from Peoria early Monday Morning. The sunrise was spectacular. When we entered DC we were greeted by the sights of Pentagon, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and finally the Capital Building, a short walk from the hotel.
This was my fifth trip to DC. It is always an amazing city. We received a special tour of the Capital Building, including the new visitor's center. Aaron and his staff took us on to the Floor of the House. We explored some of the tunnels under the Capitol complex to get around. President-elect Obama was in the Capital, hence security was very tight. Odd to see armed men in and around the Capital. Last time I had been there was before 9-11. It did not diminish the awe of the place. So much history, so much action in one place. It seemed every corner we turned there was a familiar face from the news or a well known leader. We were allowed on the House Floor as well.
Later that evening there was a welcome dinner and a night tour of the monuments. I did not attend these events, instead I headed out to Maryland to see good friends from high school and their twin girls. In speaking to others, the tour was no less than spectacular and led by Aaron's Chief of Staff Steven Shearer who lived in DC for a long time before he worked for Aaron. I have always wanted to see the monuments at night. This definitely invokes the need for another DC trip.
The next morning I headed back to DC where one of the fireman who came with us and I headed out to see what we could see. The subway system in DC is one of the best I have ever experienced. We headed over to the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Museums. After a brief tour, we headed back to meet the others at the Billy Goat Tavern, a famous DC landmark. Aaron's supporters filled the place to watch his swearing-in. While there, we shared stories of the trip and memories of Aaron, local events back home and simply good comaraderie. We witnessed Aaron's first vote.
We had some of the afternoon free, then met the group for another trip to the Capital. There we were privileged to attend Aaron's personal swearing-in event with Speaker Nancy Pelosi whom we all got to meet and shake hands with. Group pictures were taken, including the one gracing the papers here in Peoria. If you note, I was not in any of those pictures as I was in my usual spot behind the camera. I was able to surrender my Canon briefly to a staff member who took a couple of pictures with Aaron, Madame Speaker, and myself.
We then went to the library of Congress. Breathtaking is the only word to describe this building...truly a "National Treasure" (if you're a movie buff)...ha-ha, Aaron took us into a room reserved for Congressional members only. If I understood correctly, in this room were books from Thomas Jefferson. Again the sense of awe and the weight of history in this room was simply staggering.
The highlight of the trip was the Inagural Dinner for Aaron and his supporters in the Members Room at the Library of Congress. The view of the Capital Dome at night was a prominent feature right out the window. Congressman Bob Michel spoke. His enthusiasm was most certainly contagious. This is a man, who has loved his life of service and is completely thrilled to see the next generation follow in his foot steps. Former Congressman and Secretary of Transportation designee Ray LaHood also spoke. How wonderful for Peoria and the 18th Congressional to have Ray LaHood as a cabinet member and Aaron in Congress. I am hoping for great things. Every detail of that dinner was clearly meticuiouly planned for the benefit of those attending.
Again, my thanks to the staff for all their hard work on this event. That night we were blessed to be in the presence of great men and women, leaders at all levels of life. I fully believe that Aaron is on his way to being one of those men that history will remember for generations to come. To be priveleged to have helped him along the way and to have some small influence on his path to reaching his full potential is simply beyond words. Aaron is a good man and valued friend.
The trip wrapped up with the flight back. While waiting for take off, President Bill Clinton's plane was next to ours and I snapped off a few photos of him walking off his plane.
I only had two regrets from this trip. The first is that due to a work schedule conflict and finances I could not share this experience with someone that I care deeply about. The second regret is that I was unable to witness Joan Krupa being sworn-in to take Aaron's seat in Springfield for the last 10 days in his State Rep, term. I was thrilled that she was able to serve the people of the 92nd, even if only for a few days. She was able to cast a historic vote for the impeachement of the Governor.
Guest Blogger Paul Wilkinson is President of the Peoria Neighborhood Alliance and the current president of the Altamont Park Neighborhood Association. He is the 2008 recipient of the "Mayors award" for his work in neighborhood clean-up efforts. He was instrumental in securing state and federal tax ememptions for both organizations.