CHICAGO — A Chicago high school freshman will be in Washington, D.C. when President Barack Obama is sworn in later this month after friends and relatives pitched in so she could attend an educational conference keynoted by ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Kishauna McClain, a 15-year-old freshman at the University of Chicago Charter School on the South Side, is the only Chicago student among the 1,900 youth selected as "Inaugural Scholars" to attend the 8th Annual Presidential Inaugural Conference, said Regan Lamb, executive vice president of Envision EMI, which is hosting the conference.
The itinerary for the conference, which runs Jan. 19-23, includes daily seminars and a black-tie dinner, and keynote speeches by Rice and retired Army General Wesley Clark. Other panels include former Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, among others.
But to attend the conference, Kishauna, an aspiring medical pathologist, needed to come up with more than $3,100, her mother Keshia Shaw said.
So after the South Chicago resident received her invitation letter to attend the conference in July, Kishauna immediately started searching for ways to pay for the trip. She asked friends, relatives and neighbors and posted a plea on Facebook.
“I was fortunate that people who care about me pitched in to help my parents pay for the trip,” Kishauna said. “I have never been to Washington, D.C., so I am excited to see what it looks like.”
Shaw and her husband will drive her daughter to and from the conference and will stay in the area for the week.
“Luckily for us we have a lot of people who want to see Kishauna excel and [they] stepped up to help out,” Shaw said.
And thanks to a women’s networking group called the Distinguished Diamond Divas and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., who heard about Kishauna's efforts to raise money for the trip through Facebook, she now has a dress and shoes to wear to the black-tie event.
Students were chosen based on their applications, which included a recommendation from an educator, and grades in school, said Lamb. Students first had to attend a regional conference to be eligible to apply to attend the inaugural conference held every four years.
Last March, McClain attended the National Young Leaders State Conference in west suburban Oak Brook. Shaw said she spent $1,000 to send her daughter to that five-day conference.
McClain currently has a 3.8 grade point average and was recommended by her seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Hoyne Elementary School, 8905 S. Crandon Ave. The varsity volleyball player said she loves to play chess and the piano when she is not at school or participating in other activities, such as the South Side Youth Advisory Council, where she is a board member.
“I can’t ask for much because I have been afforded so many opportunities at such a young age and I am truly grateful,” McClain said.
Shaw said she was aware of concerns that arose after the conference four years ago, when six participants filed lawsuits claiming they were "short-changed" by conference organizers after raising more than $2,300 to pay for their travel and lodging. The suits claimed students were promised special access to the inauguration, parade and a black tie inaugural ball, but once the students got there, they found out they didn't have tickets for the inauguration or parade.
"I am hoping this was an isolated incident and does not repeat itself this time," Shaw said.
The lawsuit was settled in June 2010 when the company agreed to provide $1,250 in scholarship vouchers to any 2009 inaugural conference participant who said they were unsatisfied, according to a statement on the company's website.
Envision CEO John Richards admitted in a separate statement that "although this was the seventh inaugural event the company had run, it did encounter issues related to the crushing volume of people who flocked to the city for that historic event."
The schedule for the upcoming event says students will have early access to the Smithsonian on the National Mall the day of the inauguration, but they do "not guarantee premium viewing positions on the mall for the Presidential Oath of Office and Inaugural Address."