Students said this week they were most inspired by Vice President Kamala Harris’ historic swearing as the nation’s first woman as well as the first Black American and first person of South Asian descent to hold the office.
Most Chicago high schoolers weren’t old enough to vote this election cycle and might not have entirely remembered past inaugurations — but that doesn’t mean they weren’t interested in the occasion and the history this time around.
At Morgan Park High School, teacher Ericka Hamilton’s 11th grade civics class watched the inauguration together this week, mostly with pride about Vice President Kamala Harris’ historic swearing as the nation’s first woman as well as the first Black American and first person of South Asian descent to hold the office.
“They know that she went to a school that they aspire to go to,” Hamilton said, referring to Howard University, one of the nation’s premiere Historically Black Colleges and Universities. “Some of my young ladies in class, they want to be members of the sorority that she belongs to. And so they see those two things as being personal and relevant in their lives.”
Some girls in Hamilton’s mostly Black and Latina class wore Chuck Taylor shoes, which Harris has been known to rock on the campaign trail, and pearls, which are a symbol of Harris’ Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority — the oldest Black sorority.
“If they don’t see it, it’s really hard for them to believe they can be it,” Hamilton said. “And now, they’ve seen it.”
Shayla Lurry, a 17-year-old in Hamilton’s class, said it was a “very historical event … because not only do we have the first African American vice president, Ms. Harris, I feel like she’s a big role model for a lot of people. Especially women, and African American women.
“Because a lot of times people think women can’t do too much, and so I feel like her doing what she’s doing, that lets you know don’t stop what you’re doing.”
Hamilton said the class had a thoughtful discussion on the events leading up to the inauguration and the day itself, including former President Donald Trump’s no-show. Hamilton, a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan, compared Trump’s decision to skip the inauguration to the Bad Boy Pistons when they walked off the court without shaking hands with Michael Jordan’s Bulls after a bitter playoff loss.
At Foreman College and Career Academy on the Northwest Side, junior Aramis Fonseca said he was excited and relieved to see the transition of power to Biden and Harris, who he’s optimistic will pursue policies that help people of color. He also was inspired to see Harris sworn in.
“It was beautiful to see a woman, especially, because she’s the first and I think that’s going to give other young people of color hope that they can [become] a political leader,” Fonseca said. “It makes me want to be a part of social justice because there’s extreme injustice in this country. … I feel like me as a Latino and a person of color can make a change.”