President Barack Obama waved to the prying eyes huddled along the curb at Arlington National Cemetery, sending the curious scrambling for their phones.
Except for one.
In that moment, Carlos Castellanos didn’t need to tweet, post or text.
He simply needed a tissue.
“He waved to all of us, but I think he made eye contact with me … at least that’s my story,” said Castellanos, the 17-year-old student body president at Sierra High, who cried upon seeing his idol.
Stories of awe and amazement abound from Sierra’s recent trip inside American democracy, a six-day adventure that whisked students and chaperones from Philadelphia to Washington D.C.
The trip culminated with Monday’s Presidential Inauguration but it wasn’t the only highlight, as witnessed by tear-stained cheeks.
Just the last.
“Some kids have a new appreciation for their country,” said Anthony Chapman, Sierra’s Activities Director, Dean of Athletics and the architect of this cross-country adventure.
“No matter what your political views are, it was incredible. Absolutely incredible.”
The itinerary was demanding.
The group flew out of San Francisco on Thursday night and arrived in Philadelphia Friday morning for the first leg of their trip. There, they visited the National Constitution Center, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
On Saturday, they visited the battle fields of Gettysburg and later the National Archives and the Vietnam, Korean Veterans, Iwo Jima and Lincoln memorials in Washington, D.C.
Sunday’s to-do list included: the Arlington Cemetery, Smithsonian Museums, World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials.
“It was really eye opening and overwhelming. There’s so much to do and so much to see,” Castellanos said. “In California, we have movie stars and a lot of sun. Over there, they have government and policies.
“I’m interested in government and going into politics. This was reassuring to me that this is where I want to go with my life.”
The group was comprised of 12 students from Chapman’s Leadership class, his wife and cheerleading coach Erika Chapman, retired teacher Lloyd Mackey and Edison High teacher Lori Mackey.
Chapman began organizing the event last January as a way to give student government an up-close-and-personal glimpse into the political arena. The students fund-raised $2,100, not including spending money.
The trip came on the heels of a field trip to the State Capitol in 2011-12 and visits from prominent public figures over the last two years, including Assemblyman Bill Berryhill.
“He goes the extra mile,” Castellanos said of Chapman.
It wasn’t all work for the lead chaperone. Chapman was as wide-eyed and curious as his teen-aged companions.
“Everyone, except for maybe a few, hadn’t been back there. So to see how democracy works and be present while it was functioning, it was really inspiring and humbling at the same time,” Chapman said.
“On a personal level, I’ve always been a big patriot. To see the things we saw, to stand on the battle field of Gettysburg, it’s very humbling,” he later added. “You feel very fortunate to have what we have now.”
Castellanos won’t soon forget his brush with the President, whom he calls a role model.
The President, along with Vice President Joe Biden, passed by the traveling Timberwolves in their motorcade, no more than 10 feet away, said Chapman.
Obama waved to the crowd through untinted windows.
“I’m such a fan. It was emotional for me,” Castellanos said. “Seeing the leader of our nation with my own eyes was really cool.”