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History lesson

Lake Placid students watched transfer of presidential power in 2017

Lake Placid High School students and teachers watch President Donald Trump’s inaugural speech Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 in Bill Duffany’s classroom as the CBS News feed was streamed live from a laptop using the school’s Wi-Fi network and projected onto the wall above the blackboard. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

(Editor’s note: As the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden approaches on Wednesday, Jan. 20, the Lake Placid News is reprinting this story from four years ago when President Donald Trump’s inauguration was watched live by students and teachers at the Lake Placid High School in the class of Bill Duffany, who now teaches in Beekmantown. This story was originally printed in the Jan. 27, 2017 issue of the News. Trump said he would not be attending this year’s inauguration.)

LAKE PLACID — Sitting in Bill Duffany’s room at the Lake Placid High School Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, a few dozen of his students and several teachers watched President Donald Trump tell the world about his vision for the United States.

“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” Trump said shortly after taking the presidential oath of office at noon at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.”

Then, going off script, he repeated it. “America first.”

In his 10 years teaching 10th grade world history and senior-level economics at the LPHS, this is the third time Duffany has opened the doors of Room 224 for people to watch the presidential inauguration. Before anyone arrived, he closed the window shades, turned the lights off, logged on to the CBS News website on a computer using the school’s Wi-Fi network, and projected the live-streamed video feed onto the wall above the blackboard in the front of the room. Extra chairs were available, above and beyond those needed for his regular students. Around 11 a.m., as dignitaries continued to arrive at the inauguration, Duffany stood cutouts of Trump and former President Barack Obama in front of a world map. Voila. The scene was set for students and teachers to watch the peaceful transfer of presidential power and reflect on what they were witnessing as it happened.

“Students have an open invitation to come in and watch with their peers and with some teachers just to get a sense of how this whole process works,” Duffany said. “It’s the culmination of a very long and involved political season to which many of the students were tuned in to.”

With three presidential election cycles under his belt as a Lake Placid teacher, Duffany has seen a roller coaster of emotions among the student body.

“Students were more engaged in this election cycle than in years past,” he said. “The only thing I can compare it to was 2008, and students were pretty excited about that, too.”

Watching the first African American be elected and sworn in as president was a high point for many students and teachers, and that was reflected in the number of people watching Obama’s first inauguration in Duffany’s classroom.

“Kids were super-energized by Obama,” Duffany said. “It feels like 100 percent of the student body was Obama, and this year, it’s a lot more split. It’s like the country. … The day after the election was a tough day for a lot of kids, and it was a really good day for a lot of other kids. Having to help both of them navigate that and move forward was a tricky job.”

The 2012 election was not as popular as 2008, but the 2016 election cycle grabbed the students’ attention again in a big way, or “bigly” as President Trump likes to say.

“It was so contentious, and it was everywhere, so they were immersed in it,” Duffany said. “Normally you would have to seek out political coverage, but this was everywhere, so we had to address it.”

Although the presidential election was not discussed at length with sophomores in Duffany’s world history course, it was covered extensively with seniors in his economics class. They watched every debate on YouTube and discussed all the issues.

“What was most striking talking with the seniors was some of them were voting, and some of them aren’t able to vote but they were feeling … disappointed that they couldn’t take part,” Duffany said. “They were genuinely interested in the issues.”

Big issues for the seniors included gun control, abortion and the Supreme Court.

“And they really didn’t have too much background on those issues, so they were discovering what they think about the world they live in now,” Duffany said. “That’s the best part of my job.”

With the open invitation to watch the presidential inauguration every four years, Duffany’s biggest hope is that students become informed and engaged citizens.

“I hope that they take out of this, whether you’re for one side or the other or some third party, that democracy is not a spectator sport, that they’ve got to get involved, what they think matters, and that they should be informed when they make decisions,” he said. “I don’t care what your opinion is, but you should try to back that up with some evidence and some moral or ethical value that you hold.”

Students arrive

Even though most of Duffany’s students were not able to vote in 2016, all of them will be eligible to vote in the next presidential election, and that had an impact on their attention to the issues and political players. Even former students like junior Jenna Eldred, who skipped yearbook duty to watch the inauguration, stopped by Room 224 to see Trump take his oath of office and Obama leave on the Marine One helicopter.

“It’s really history in the making,” said Eldred, a Bernie Sanders supporter. “It’s our 45th president, and interesting things can happen. It’s the leaving of the first African American president, so it’s kind of two different historical events right now.”

Two of Duffany’s students — Trump supporters Hunter Spotts, a sophomore, and Kyle Kirby, a senior — decided to dress for the occasion. Kirby wore a star-studded navy blue tie decorated with the Statue of Liberty over his Trump T-shirt, and Spotts wore a gray National Rifle Association T-shirt and red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.

“It’s a clear violation of the student code of conduct, outlined on page 21 of the student handbook, Hunter, but it’s a special occasion,” Duffany joked about the baseball cap. “Just don’t touch the cardboard cutouts; they don’t belong to me.”

“I won’t,” Spotts said.

After Trump took the oath of office and delivered his speech, Duffany raised the window shades in his classroom, turned on the lights and began discussing the day’s activities with his students.

“I thought it was interesting,” said student Kamm Cassidy. “It was pretty brief compared to Obama’s last inauguration speech. It was pretty cool.”

Sophomore Adalyne Perryman, who arrived after Trump’s speech, was asked about the president’s “America first” line and wasn’t totally clear on the meaning.

“Does he mean that he’s going to put America before other countries? Is that what he’s getting at there?” Perryman asked. “It kind of sounds a bit ominous. I didn’t hear his tone of voice because I missed the speech, but it does sound like he’s going to put America before other things.”

To Trump supporter Jarrett Hathaway, a sophomore wearing a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, the president’s speech did not change from his message during the election process.

“Pretty much he said what he said during all of his campaign,” Hathaway said. “He wants to put America first, and he wants to create more jobs and everything.”

Hathaway’s support is unwavering and will continue. Looking toward 2020, he has already decided who will get his first vote for president — Donald J. Trump — even though, as of 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, Trump had not done anything official as the 45th president of the United States, other than take the oath of office and give a speech that ended with “together we will make America great again.”

“I don’t care,” Hathaway said.