Beyond the Books

Your Guide to student life


Barack Obama

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Rachael Paul.

Over 10,000 gathered in front of the White House on Thursday evening, but they weren’t motivated by politics. Instead, they pushed to the front of the crowd for a view of a towering Christmas tree that twinkled with more than 60,000 LED lights on the lawn.

President Barack Obama told the crowd that the annual National Christmas Tree Lighting began with President Calvin Coolidge in 1923.

“School kids here in Washington wrote a letter to the White House asking if they could put a Christmas tree on the South Lawn,” Obama said. “More than 90 years and a few different evergreens later, the National Christmas Tree still stands as a symbol of hope and holiday spirit.”

Spectators, who had won their spots through an online lottery, danced, cheered and huddled in the cold to watch the lighting from several jumbotrons.

R&B singer Patti Labelle opened the evening with a soulful rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” accompanied by the U.S. Marine Band.

Other musical performances included Fifth Harmony’s sultry “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and a classical “Oh Holy Night” by The Tenors. Artists from Ne-Yo to Rita Wilson also gave performances.

Nico and Vinz, two singers from Norway, gave a spirited rendition of “This Christmas” with fancy footwork to accompany it, and members of the crowd – including Sasha and Malia Obama themselves – clapped and sang along to the lyrics.

Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer

President Barack Obama stands on stage with Santa Claus during the annual National Christmas Tree Lighting on Thursday. Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Husband and wife Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson joined the Obamas onstage to host the event, offering short, comical anecdotes and even taking selfies with the crowd in between introductions.

When the audience heard Hanks discussing basketball as he sat next to the president, interrupting Wilson’s performance, Hanks said, “I know [Obama] will be free in a couple of years, so I figured I would discuss possibly shooting a movie together.”

Finally, it was time for the historic moment that 13,000 people came to view.

When Obama stepped on stage to begin the countdown, the excitement was palpable in the audience. As soon as time ran out, the tree burst to life and spectators grabbed their smartphones to snap pictures of the massive structure of green, yellow and white twinkling lights wrapped in red ribbon and topped with snowflake ornaments.

This year, the White House departed from the usual GE Lighting for a more environmentally friendly route. The lights that envelope this year’s tree require 80 percent less energy. The design was by female students from across the country as part of Google’s Made with Code campaign, which encourages women to break into technology fields.

“Thanks to those wonderful students. It is incredibly impressive and actually one of the few things Tom Hanks cannot do,” Obama said, laughing.

But no holiday soiree is complete without a visit from the North Pole. To close, all the entertainers (including the Obamas) joined together to sing “Jingle Bells” with Santa Claus, with the president singing mini solos and offering Santa high-fives.

  • Permalink
  • Comments


Thousands gathered on the National Mall on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

Hatchet staff writer Rachel Smilan-Goldstein recounts her experience at the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action ceremony Wednesday, which celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom.

On a day meant to commemorate a historic moment in the ongoing struggle for equality, one barrier remained unwavering between spectators and the reflecting pool: a white security tent.

Thousands gathered Wednesday at the 17th Street entrance of the National Mall, squeezed between the Washington Monument and World War II Memorial, only to wait for hours before passing through an unsubstantial security checkpoint.

The mass of bodies could not be described as a line, instead resembling a mob as the rain poured down on the muggy late-August morning. The heat was sweltering, and we stood for hours.

Within the crowd, people shouted for medics. An elderly man was helped out of the masses; a young woman knelt above the ground before fainting, vomiting and losing consciousness. At least five other people left for medical attention.

And with no access to water or bathrooms, many people abandoned their spots in the crowd for basic necessities.

Despite the dangers and inconveniences of the security process, many attendees remained in high spirits. As they inched closer to the security tent, they joked loudly about reaching the “Promised Land” on the other side and “crossing the Mason-Dixon line.”

Along the way, guards held true to their promise to confiscate a number of items. One man in the crowd lamented giving up his two metal water bottles and a Swiss army knife. A woman was devastated as guards took her over-sized sign denouncing the death of Trayvon Martin. As she complained, guards told her that she could keep the sign but would have to sacrifice her hours of waiting. With thousands waiting for her to make a decision, she tore off part of the poster and proceeded onto the Mall.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s representative in Congress, called the security check point an “organizational breakdown.” She wrote in a letter to the Secret Service that D.C. Fire and EMS had to attend to more then 100 people, and some were hospitalized.

“As a result of your poor planning and execution, many were unable to attend and participate in the event altogether,” Norton wrote in the letter she sent Thursday to Secret Service Director Julia Pierson. “There is no doubt that the many failures could have been prevented.”

In 1963, there were no metal detectors, no bag searches, no pat downs. Instead, those rallying for civil rights across the country faced threats of police dogs and fire hoses, or worse.

The security feats average citizens had to overcome Wednesday illuminate the changed world in the wake of the events of the 1960s and more recent years. The cumulative impacts of tragedies ranging from the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to 9/11 to the Boston bombing haven’t changed the “why,” but “how” we march on Washington.

  • Permalink
  • Comments
Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 9:37 p.m.

Weekend Outlook

Shown here at the 2009 presidential inauguration, then President-elect Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and Jill Biden on the steps of the Capitol. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor BrokenSphere under the Creative Commons License.

It’s inauguration weekend – there’s no excuse to not go out in a celebratory mood.

- I’m not entirely sure whether or not you’ve heard, but a presidential inauguration is taking place this weekend. The swearing-in ceremony,parade and a multitude of inaugural balls make this one of the most exciting times to be in the District.

- Renowned rapper Talib Kweli will perform at Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar for a DJ set Saturday night. The best part? The event is completely free.

- The Park at 14th is celebrating  the inauguration all weekend, but a special appearance from rapper Common makes their Saturday night event all the more fun. Tickets for the 10 p.m. party are $20.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

Want to find the best spot to see the Inaugural Parade and the nearest port-a-potty on the Mall?

President Barack Obama’s team unveiled today the first-ever smartphone app devoted to inauguration ceremonies. The app is available for iPhones and Androids.

When President Barack Obama is sworn in next week, viewers can also livestream the ceremony from their smartphones app. It’s the first-ever official inauguration app. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons license.

It also details the weekend’s schedule, live streams the swearing-in ceremony and offers a sign-up for service events.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

With about a month until voters cast ballots Nov. 6, students registered Wednesday to vote in D.C. and watched the Denver presidential debate at an event organized by Program Board, the College Democrats and the College Republicans.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

President Barack Obama's dog Bo should probably stay out of the media spotlight while the economy continues to recover, GW researchers concluded in a political science journal article. | Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

While pundits say a poor economy could walk all over President Barack Obama’s reelection chances, GW researchers conclude something else could hurt his campaign: walking his dog, Bo.

The three professors, who dug through a trove of “presidential pet literature,” wrote in the July edition of the journal PS: Political Science and Politics that furry White House residents typically stay out of the spotlight during sagging economic climates  – and for good reason.

Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman, who is also a political science professor, led the team of researchers.

“We surmise that diversionary pets are a political liability when their frolicking on the White House lawn in hard times might cue the public that not everyone in the country is suffering equally and that being president is not a full-time job,” the research team wrote.

During war and scandal, presidential pets are splashed across newspaper pages, the researchers wrote. But during harsh economic times, dogs are out of the picture and are a perceived political liability.

Politically, presidential pets “are unquestionably a mixed breed with an unusual combination of skills. In addition to their insider influence, pets serve the president in hard economic times by staying out of sight; in challenging political and military times, pets stand alongside the president as a reassuring public presence.”

The peer-reviewed article, titled “Unleashing Presidential Power: The Politics of Pets in the White House,” traces the politicization of presidential pets back to a 1944 speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The researchers also noted President Richard Nixon’s 1952 “Checkers” speech – a political salvation for the then-presidential candidate – and Obama’s promise during his nomination-clinching speech to get his daughters Sasha and Malia a dog.

“We view our findings as an important contribution to a research program that will bring the dog into political analysis,” they team concluded.

  • Permalink
  • Comments
Friday, Oct. 7, 2011 11:36 a.m.

Shakira and Obama team up for education

Shakira, a singer, songwriter, dancer, musician, and philanthropist, brings her experience as two-time foundation founder to the presidential commission's 28-member panel. Gabriella Demczuk | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Shakira only goes by one name, but uses its worldwide recognition to make a difference in the Latino community.

The Colombian-born singing sensation was sworn in Thursday as a member of the president’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, joining a 28-member committee that boasts education elites, college presidents and professors.

“Race and ethnicity shouldn’t be factors in the education of any child,” the artist said.

Shakira said she hopes to work with President Barack Obama to plan an early education summit in the coming year, focusing on establishing new initiatives to jump start education efforts for Latino children.

“There is no doubt the future of the United States is inextricably tied to the Latino community here and the education of its youth,” Shakira said.

Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to Obama for education, said the commission’s goal is to work with the president to extend educational opportunities “from cradle to career.”

Rodriguez also expressed the need to stabilize the cost of college for Latino students, seeing them through from convocation to graduation.

“It’s not just a matter of getting each and every one of our Latino students to the college dorm, it’s a matter of helping them get through that experience and earn their college degree,” Rodriguez said.

Shakira is already the founder of several nonprofit initiatives, the first of which she started as a teenager, and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Fundacion Piex Desclazos – the Barefoot Foundation – aims to provide aid and support to child victims of violence and Fundacion América Latina en Acción Solidaria works to combat child poverty.

In November, Shakira will be honored as the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

The first family ushered in the start of the holiday season with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree Thursday evening. Gabriel Muller | Multimedia Editor

The first family welcomed the start of the holiday season Thursday night with the 87th annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

Hosted by rapper and actor Common, thousands of onlookers shivered inside President’s Park near the White House to watch the 42-foot Colorado blue spruce light up with LEDs as the most energy efficient tree in the tradition’s history.

“This is a very proud holiday tradition,” President Barack Obama said. “Snow or shine, in good times or in periods of hardship, folks like you have gathered with presidents to light our national tree.”

With performances by B.B. King, Sara Bareilles, Maroon 5, Ingrid Michaelson and 10-year-old opera phenomenon Jackie Evancho, the celebration featured Christmas-themed songs and a special appearance by Santa Claus.

While reading “The Night Before Christmas” onstage to about 10 children, Michelle Obama accidentally skipped forward a few pages into the story before realizing the need to backtrack.

“The first lady is taking off her gloves,” she said.

Common brought a sense of lyricism to his hosting duties.

“Right here, everything is evident, because we came here to celebrate with the President,” Common recited. “Understand common sense. When we’re here, peace no drama. Just think, we get to sit and celebrate with all of the Obamas.”

“It was wonderful. The peace of everybody here, the unity,” said Deidra King-Ross of Luray, Va. “It’s cold, but it’s still good.”

The lighting of the tree dates 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit the tree on the Ellipse for the first time.

Each night until January 1, 2011, the tree will remain lit from dusk to 11 p.m.

Tickets for the event were distributed through a lottery. For those who missed it, a video of the ceremony can be viewed online.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

The National Christmas Tree in 2009

Tickets for the lighting of the National Christmas Tree will be distributed through an online lottery system starting today, offering a lucky selected few the ability to see the national holiday symbol come to life during the Dec. 9 ceremony.

The 13,000 free tickets will be distributed through an online lottery between Nov. 5 and Nov. 7.

Of the 13,000 tickets, 3,000 will be for seats, and 10,000 for standing-room only space on the Ellipse, located just south of the White House.

Tickets can also be requested via telephone by calling (877)444-6777 or for TDD (877)833-6777.

Applicants can check to see if they won tickets beginning Nov. 10 online or through the call center.

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and first daughters Sasha and Malia will help light a large Christmas tree on the Ellipse after the event begins at 5 p.m.

NBC 4 announced Thursday night that B.D. King, Maroon 5 and Sara Bareilles will join the first family for the celebration. Last year, performers included Sheryl Crow, Common and Ray LaMontagne.

The traditional tree lighting began in 1923 with President Calvin Coolidge’s administration.

Like last year, energy-efficient light bulbs from General Electric will adorn the tree, marking GE’s 49th consecutive year decorating the national tree, according to the National Christmas Tree’s website.

Along with the main tree, 56 smaller trees will be set up to form the “Christmas Pathway of Peace.” The trees represent all 50 states, five territories and D.C.

The National Menorah will also be part of the display on the Ellipse. In celebration of Chanukah, the lighting of the menorah will occur Dec. 1 at 4 p.m.

The United States Navy Band and the group “The Three Cantors” are set to perform. Food and games will also be part of the event.

  • Permalink
  • Comments
Saturday, April 24, 2010 11:24 p.m.

District Roundup-Week of April 19

Civil rights leader passes away

On Tuesday, civil rights leader Dr. Dorothy I. Height died at Howard University Hospital. She was 98. A cause of death was not disclosed, according to The Washington Post. Though Height was not as well known as other civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 1960s, she was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. Her activism began in the 1930s, and in 1994 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Obama called her “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement” in a statement. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty also declared April 20, 2010 “Dr. Dorothy I. Height Day” in the District.

D.C. voting rights bill momentum stalled

Despite the support of President Barack Obama for D.C. voting rights, the issue never came to the House floor this week. On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Congress would not consider a bill to give District residents voting rights this session because of issues surrounding a gun amendment. The legislation including the amendment would have eliminated many of D.C.’s gun control laws.

New rules proposed for pedicabs

The Washington Business Journal reported Friday that new rules were proposed by the District Department of Transportation April 23 for pedicabs in D.C.  When the rules are adopted in about 30 days, each passenger must wear a seatbelt. Certain lights, reflectors and brakes must be on the part bicycle, part taxi vehicles too. The driver will be required to wear a reflective vest at all times, and pedicabs will be restricted from being on sidewalks. Pedicab operators also will not be able to drive on D.C. roads with posted speed limits over 30 mph.

  • Permalink
  • Comments