Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., is adorned in red, white, and blue every four years on January 20 for the inauguration of a new president. This is an event for Americans of all ages. Older adults have witnessed many such transitions, but the historic ceremony never seems to lose its appeal. Inaugural festivities are a celebration of American democracy.
Here are a few activities to commemorate the inauguration of our new president. You can adapt them to the needs and interests of your group.
- Ask participants to name all of the U.S. presidents that they remember. Reminisce about listening to presidential inaugurations on the radio. Show a historic photograph of Harry Truman’s inauguration in 1949 (the first to be televised). Ask: Which inauguration is the most memorable for you? What made it special?
- Define inauguration. Ask: What events take place during the inauguration of a new president? (Oath of Office and inaugural address at the Capitol, inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, inaugural balls around the city) How have the events changed and grown over the years? Have you ever gone to Washington to see the swearing-in ceremony? What do you recall about the inaugural parade?
- Read the Presidential oath from the U.S. Constitution. (“I do solemnly swear…”) Ask: Have you ever taken an oath (Scout oath) or an oath of office? What do you remember about your pledge?
- Display the U.S. flag and books of past presidents. Hang pictures of the newest president and family, the White House, and the Oval Office. Decorate in red, white, and blue balloons and streamers. Serve a flag-shaped cake and punch.
- Listen to patriotic music by The U.S. Marine Band (the President’s Own). Enjoy favorites such as “Hail to the Chief” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
- Read some poetry from past presidential inaugurations. (Robert Frost’s “Dedication” and “The Gift Outright” or Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning”) Ask participants if each poem fit the times in which it was delivered.
- Listen to audio clips from past inaugural speeches (e.g., John Kennedy’s in 1961) and talk about themes. Challenge your group to finish Kennedy’s famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you….” Ask: Did Americans heed Kennedy’s call to service in the 1960s? (Peace Corps, VISTA) How did you serve your country?
- Display some vintage ball gowns, shawls and wraps, rhinestone shoes, and tuxedos from a costume shop. Talk about dress for a black-tie event. Look at photos of the First Ladies’ inaugural ball gowns – poll for favorites. Ask if anyone has seen the exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
- Hold a vintage hat show (top hat, fedora, homburg, derby) for the men and ask them to recall presidents and their hats, e.g., LBJ’s Stetson. Talk about hat etiquette. Ask the men why they think hats aren’t worn as much today.
- Learn some simple ballroom dancing steps. Show pictures of the President and First Lady dancing at an inaugural ball.
- Watch a documentary on the White House or Air Force One. (Check local libraries for National Geographic videos.)
- Display inauguration souvenirs – pennant, tickets, programs, coins, newspaper clippings, medals, buttons.
- Chat about presidential pets, including parrots, bears, dogs, cats, and a pony. Read excerpts from Barbara Bush’s book, Millie’s Book, a springer spaniel’s view of the White House.
- Pass around postcards of historic landmarks in Washington, D.C. (Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Capitol) and reminisce about family trips to the nation’s capital.
- Show portraits of mid-20th century First Ladies, e.g., Bess Truman, Mamie Eishenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon. Chat about the role of First Lady and some of the social causes she adopted. Ask: Which first lady has been the most memorable to you? Why?
FIRST LADIES TRIVIA QUIZ
First Ladies play a unique role in history. Challenge your group to a trivia quiz on our presidents’ wives. (Note: Some questions are taken from the chapter titled “Presidents” in Down Memory Lane, Second Edition, published by ElderSong.)
- Which former first lady became a delegate to the United Nations? Eleanor Roosevelt
- Which first lady redecorated the White House and then showed it to the country via a television special? Jackie Kennedy
- Which first lady, born in Texas, had two daughters named Lynda and Luci? Lady Bird Johnson
- Who was Martha Custis? George Washington’s wife
- This silver-haired first lady often visited schools and promoted the cause of reading literacy. Barbara Bush
- What was Bess Truman’s given first name? Elizabeth
- Which first lady served from 1953-1961? (Hint: Her husband loved to golf.) Mamie Eisenhower
- Who was the wife of the second President of the United States? Abigail Adams
- This first lady from Plains, Georgia, was sometimes called Steel Magnolia. Rosalynn Carter
- Which first lady promoted the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign? Nancy Reagan
“INAUGURATION DAY” written by Sue Hansen. © 2008 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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