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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, January 29, 2009
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
While most Americans watched Barack Obama take the oath of office on television or computer screens, Katie Forti, a 15-year-old Girl Scout from Knox, witnessed history in person.
“One older colored woman near us was listening very closely to Obama’s inaugural address and kept calling out, ‘Thank the Lord,’ ‘Amen to that!’ and “Alleluia!” Forti reported. “And right in front of our group was a very tall crowd of Canadians who had been paying attention to what has been happening in our government. They were cheering just as loudly as the rest of us.”
Forti earned the trip by writing an essay, saying she wanted to be a part of history and to see her government in action. She was one of 18 young women from the Girl Scouts of Northeast New York Council, which stretches from the Capital District north to Malone, who traveled together to Washington, D.C. to see the inauguration.
An honors student at Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School, Forti is the president of the sophomore class. She plays midfield on her school’s soccer team, and is a member of the Masterminds team, which competes in a quiz-show format.
Forti has been a Girl Scout since she was 8. The others in her troop have stopped scouting so she was pleased to tour Washington with Scouts her age and hopes to stay in touch with them.
She is working towards her Gold Award, akin to being an Eagle Scout for boys. And she helps her mother, Jean, with a troop her 8-year-old sister, Marcy, belongs to.
“I like working with the girls,” Katie Forti said.
The 18 Northeast New York Scouts arrived in Washington on the Sunday before the inauguration, leaving plenty of time to tour museums and monuments.
Forti was most impressed with the Holocaust Memorial Museum. “It’s really sad,” she said. “You get a passport for someone who was part of the Holocaust...The girl I got died. She fed food to the Jews. A soldier caught her.”
The Scouts got up early on Tuesday morning for the noon inauguration and took the metro from the Girl Scout lodge to the center of the city.
“We hung out at the foot of the Washington Monument and could see the big-screen TVs and all the crowd,” Forti reported. “It was very exciting.”
She went on about the crowd, estimated at one-and-a-half million people, “The crowd was immense with some people sitting in trees and on porta-potties for a better view. And there was quite a variety in the crowd: white people, African-American people, Asian people....”
Although she found the inauguration exciting, Forti concluded, “I think the girls on my trip, including me, do not fully understand what happened on that day. My parents are going on and on about how much our country has changed, even in the past few years, but personally, whoever the president is does not affect me much. I mean, my life will not really be any different, even though our country is very changed by having a black president.”
Forti said of living in the rural Helderberg Hilltowns, “We’re up here in the middle of nowhere.”
She hasn’t yet developed any strong political views of her own, Forti said, but trusts her parents’ judgment. They are Democrats. Her father works for the state’s health department, detecting the levels of contaminants in fish, and Forti described her mother as “a stay-at-home mom who does a ton for the community.”
“I kind of go along with my parents,” she said.
Forti anticipated that perhaps 15 or 20 years from now, “once I’ve been able to live a little,” she would fully grasp the meaning of the Jan. 20, 2009 inauguration she witnessed.
Looking into the far future, she said, “I’ll be able to tell my grandkids I was there.”
Forti admires Obama. “He’s really smart and stuff and he really admires what is going on,” she said.
Forti concluded of attending the inauguration, “I believe that, when I am older, I will more fully understand what that day meant to everyone in our country: How it opened the doors for America. Maybe we will have a woman president next, or maybe a Muslim or a Hindu. The wheels are all ready in motion; all we need to do is act.”