Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in front of thousands of people at Mike Pence’s gubernatorial inauguration was thrilling enough for 40 St. Bartholomew Catholic School fourth-graders.
They didn’t know they’d get the chance to meet Pence and have their picture taken with him during a tour that followed at the Statehouse.
St. Bartholomew Catholic School’s two fourth-grade classes, their teachers and a handful of parents and church leaders, including the Rev. Clem Davis, took a school bus about 8:30 a.m. Monday to Indianapolis to collect on an invitation by Pence, a former St. Columba Catholic School student, to join three other Indiana schools to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the big event.
St. Columba was a separate school in Bartholomew County until it consolidated with St. Bartholomew more than 10 years ago.
Teacher Laura Howell said the drive took a little longer than it would have normally because an accident on Interstate 65 forced them to take U.S. 31. And although the bus still got there well ahead of the 11 a.m. start time, organizers had been nervous enough that they almost sent a police escort just in case the bus was stuck in traffic.
Howell said the students practiced the Pledge of Allegiance in the Statehouse auditorium before moving outside to a reserved place in the bleachers with the other students. When the time came for the pledge, the thousands of people in attendance rose and faced the fourth-graders.
Kathleen Proffitt, the other fourth-grade teacher from St. Bartholomew, said that moment made her students feel special. She said her students recited the pledge without any noticeable nervousness, probably because they recite it daily before each school day.
Student Sydnee Guthrie said reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was her favorite moment, specifically when the crowd turned to them and made her “feel like a leader and everything.”
The St. Bartholomew students’ tour of the Statehouse after the one-hour ceremony provided an opportunity for students to experience firsthand some of the state government processes they will study in class during the coming weeks.
Howell said that on the tour the students saw state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, who answered their questions about his job responsibilities. She said Smith especially enjoyed one student’s observation that he thought Smith was 30 years old.
Proffitt said the highlight of the tour came when the St. Bartholomew students walked past a reception for Pence, hoping for a glimpse of the new governor. She said Pence’s wife, Karen, recognized them as being from her husband’s hometown and told them to wait there for a moment.
She came back with Pence, who spoke with the students and posed for pictures.
“He took time to shake every student’s hand,” Proffitt said. “It showed a lot of character on his end. Our students were just very impressed with him. It made him more real.”
Student Michael Gambaiani said the highlight for him came when Pence asked if anyone could recall which U.S. president Pence had mentioned during his inauguration speech.
Gambaiani got it right. The answer was William Henry Harrison.
“I don’t know if the kids quite yet grasp the wonderful opportunity that unfolded in front of them,” Proffitt said. “As adults, we understand these are opportunities that don’t come very often.
“I’m thinking this is an experience they will take with them as they grow older,” Proffitt added. “They’ll look back on it and realize what a terrific experience they had to witness an inauguration.”