Bright Future: Clayton earns trip to inauguration

Published 12:03 am Thursday, February 7, 2013

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Natchez High School senior Autry Clayton III was selected as part of the High School Inaugural Scholars program to travel to Washington, D.C., to witness President Obama's inauguration.

NATCHEZ — Autry J. Clayton III was a part of history on Jan. 21.

Standing in a crowd with nearly 900,000 people around him in Washington, D.C., Clayton watched as President Obama was sworn in to his second term in office.

The Natchez High School 11th grader was selected along with 2,000 other high school students from across the country to attend the inauguration as part of a five-day program called, “the high school presidential inaugural conference.”

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But no other student or person in the crowd, Clayton said, valued the experience more than he did.

“For me to go to the second inauguration of the first African American president just meant so much,” Clayton said. “I was a part of history.”

Clayton was chosen to attend the inauguration event because of his participation in the National Youth Leadership Forum in law and crime scene investigation, which he attended over the summer in Washington, D.C.

Students the organizers of that forum felt showed great interest were chosen and invited to attend the president’s inauguration, Clayton said.

And while he enjoyed the leadership forum and participated in every lecture, class and activity possible, Clayton said he had no idea he was going to be chosen.

“Two months after I got back they sent me a letter in the mail, and I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “They never mentioned to us that we could possibly be chosen to go, so I really wasn’t expecting it at all.

“I was just flattered to have been selected.”

The letter was something Clayton said was almost too good to keep to himself.

“For a while I just kind of kept it to myself and didn’t tell anyone,” he said. “But as it got closer and closer, I just couldn’t help it and started telling everyone I was going.”

Clayton left from Jackson-Evers International Airport on Jan. 19 and arrived the same day at the Washington National Airport.

From there, Clayton was transported to a hotel in the city and introduced to the other five members of his group.

Interacting with high school students from Ohio, California and Miami was an added bonus Clayton said he wasn’t expecting.

“It’s just nice to meet other kids your age who you don’t know, but that you have so much in common with,” he said. “Meeting and talking to those other students actually motivated me a lot because they were doing a lot more things in their community than I was.”

And slowly but surely Clayton said he began to realize he was the only student from Mississippi on the trip.

“None of them even knew where Natchez was,” Clayton said, laughing. “Every time I said I was from Mississippi they would just say, ‘Wow that’s really the Deep South.’”

In the days leading up to the inauguration, Clayton said he and his group got to learn about the entire inaugural process, participating in a mock reenactment and visiting tourist attractions like the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“They actually closed down the air and space museum just for us,” he said. “We were the only people in there and got to look around.”

Other events such as meeting former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and associate editor of The Washington Post Bob Woodward were some of the highlights leading up to the event, Clayton said.

And even having gone through a jam-packed itinerary of events each day, Clayton said he was still restless the night before the inauguration.

“I just couldn’t sleep the night before,” he said, laughing. “We had to be up at 4 a.m., and I was just too excited.”

But when the big moment finally arrived and Clayton took his seat, he said he knew he was ready to be a part of history.

“It was just a very patriotic moment to be there and be a part of it,” he said. “I’ll never forget that moment, that’s for sure.”

Autry is the son of Constance and Autry J. Clayton Jr.