It’s not every day that I am able to witness history in the making. Last week, I attended the second inauguration of President Obama. I experienced this moment among hundreds of thousands of others who gathered on the National Mall, excited and encouraged about the next four years.

I was given this amazing opportunity by Lead America, an organization that brings together students from all parts of the nation and from foreign countries to Washington, D.C., for the Presidential Inaugural Leadership Summit. In addition to the actual inauguration, Lead America offered a five-day program that included several seminars and workshops designed to improve leadership ability and motivate students to make a change in the world. By the time the conference was over, I had met with two former congressmen and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

I had Skyped with business leaders in Nigeria to offer them potential solutions to the barriers they face and attended a question-and-answer session with former CIA executives about the future of our country’s national security. I was among 400 students at the conference who were in the process of being developed into the leaders of the next generation.

On Inauguration Day, there was a patriotic spirit in the crowd. Singers James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé added to that spirit. Everyone came together as a community to celebrate the moving forward of our country. American flags were waving in the crowd, and although it was very cold, you were warmed by the cohesiveness of the crowd and the excitement of the day.

There were two ideas in the president’s inaugural remarks that really stood out to me. The first involved the idea of progress. The president said, “The journey is not complete.” Although we may make significant progress, we must respond to new challenges as the times continuously change. The issues the nation faces might not be solved in four years, 40 years or even 400 years. This is where the young generation will be required to step up and continue the work of the present.

Obama also emphasized the idea that the oath he took to “faithfully execute the office of president of the United States” is not so different from the oath taken by a soldier when he or she signs up for duty, or when each citizen pledges allegiance to the flag. In doing so, he stressed that each and every American has the ability and the obligation to determine the direction of this country. We must each carry on the ideals of our predecessors that have shaped this great nation.

As a student and aspiring politician, it was a great opportunity to be in Washington be a part of history. I hope my career path leads me to Washington someday.

Corey Pray is a senior at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute.