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Local residents travel to capitol to get up-close look at history in the making

Shane Hagstrom packs a digital camera into a backpack Jan. 15 that will accompany him from Atwater to Washington, D.C. Hagstrom will be in attendance today for Barack Obama's inauguration. Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer

Kristen Lundquist started watching the career of Barack Obama in 2004.

The Willmar native will follow it one more step today when she attends Obama's inauguration as president of the United States.

Lundquist said she will be thrilled to witness such a moment in history.

For Shane Hagstrom, it will be his second time at an inauguration. He looks forward to seeing pictures of the huge crowd and knowing that he was one of the people there.

Lundquist received tickets from the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Hagstrom got his from Rep. Collin Peterson's office. They will be quite a bit closer than four students and a teacher from New London-Spicer High School who will be attending the inauguration without tickets.

Teacher Rick McLain and the students will join the throngs of people in the public viewing area on the mall between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.

The students have the advantage of traveling with a group that organizes field trips. WorldStrides, a student tour service from Chicago, will provide tour guides and it makes the air and hotel arrangements. They flew out Monday morning and will return Wednesday evening.

McLain warned seniors Mahle Roth, Angie Thein, Lucas Gronli and junior Tanner Chambers that security would be tight in Washington. Be prepared to open bags and empty pockets at numerous security checkpoints, he said.

Comfortable shoes would also be important, because they may be on their feet for longer than 10 hours today, and they'll walk miles to get to the mall and back to their pickup point.

The group started making plans to go to the inauguration last year, before anyone knew who would be elected. McLain passed out information from WorldStrides to a number of students.

"I talked to my Mom," Roth said. "She said it would be cool, either way we're going to be making history."

Roth and McLain have not been to Washington before, but the others have. Thein said she hopes to get a more in-depth view of the city by being there for the inauguration. Gronli said he was looking forward to seeing the "final steps in the process" after voting in his first election.

Chambers said going to the inauguration is an extension of his growing interest in politics.

"I knew it was expensive, but I talked to my parents, and we put the money together," he said.

McLain said it will be an unforgettable experience "just to be with that many people."

The cost of the trip, about $1,300 each, kept many students from signing up. As the day approached, though, the four students said they heard from many envious friends.

Lundquist, 25, is a graduate student studying historical administration at Eastern Illinois University. She just finished an internship in the Washington area and still lives there, so she didn't have to look for a place to stay.

Her older brother Brent Lundquist is flying out from Willmar to join her. She had another ticket for a cousin who couldn't get a flight, she said, so she planned to offer the ticket to someone at her church.

"I'm a little bit worried about the crowds," Lundquist said in a phone interview from Alexandria, Va. "It will be interesting to see how we can get into the city." Many roads and bridges will be closed, and the transit system is expected to be filled to capacity today.

She and her roommate have a few people staying at their apartment, she said, so things may be a bit crowded. "It will be fun, though," she said. "How often do you get to do something like this?"

The Lundquists planned to attend a reception hosted Monday by Klobuchar.

"It's just such an amazing time in history," Kristen Lundquist said.

As a student of history, she's read about historical moments, and she's looking forward to being there to see this one unfold and to tell others about it later.

"In 20 or 40 years, people will be surprised you were there," she said.

"It's going to be cool," Hagstrom said. "I see images of when Martin Luther King gave his speech and all those people. ... I'll be able to be one of those people."

Hagstrom attended President Bush's inauguration four years ago. He received that ticket from Sen. Norm Coleman's office. This time, Hagstrom put himself on a ticket request list with Peterson's office. Early this month he got a call that he had tickets.

Hagstrom, 27, is a middle school geography teacher in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District. He said his students will be watching on television and he'll try to get in touch with them by cell phone during the day.

"I'll be there, but they'll see more than I will," he said. He feels his presence at the inauguration provides "a cool teachable moment," and he plans to record television coverage so that he can watch it himself when he gets home.

Hagstrom is going with a high school friend, Josh Halvorson of Duluth. They plan to fly to New York City, stay with a high school friend there and then drive to Baltimore, where they will stay with another high school friend.