McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster students to attend Obama inauguration

By Laura Thompson
Published: January 12, 2009
Nadia Oryema and Valerie Phoon
From left: Nadia Oryema and Valerie Phoon

Several McMaster University students have scored the hottest ticket in Washington.

Nadia Oryema, Valerie Phoon, Irena Rebalka and Paul Athanasopoulos are among a select group of international university scholars invited to attend the U.S. presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.

"I feel privileged that I’m going to be able to witness this historic event," said Oryema, a fourth-year Bachelor of Health Sciences student. "It just increases my motivation to stay on top of international relations and politics in order to understand what’s going on in the world and what possibilities there are to make things better."

The invitations for the McMaster students to attend the inauguration came through the University Presidential Inaugural Conference (UPIC), which features panel discussions, debates and keynote speakers Al Gore and Colin Powell.

Participation in the conference is reserved for alumni of select honour societies who are enrolled in post-secondary institutions and meet academic and leadership requirements.

"I’m so excited," said Phoon, a fourth-year linguistic cognitive science student who will be visiting Washington for the first time. "I’ve never witnessed anything like this before. My family is really excited for me too, and my friends."

Rebalka and Athanasopoulos, both first-year life sciences students, said they are honoured to have received the invite.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Rebalka said. "The 44th president is going to be an African American. I’m going to witness history. I’ll remember this forever."

The five-day conference culminates in a black tie inaugural ball — and Oryema, Phoon and Rebalka spent the holidays shopping for the perfect gown.

Oryema said her family is thrilled about her opportunity to witness history in the making. Her father, Dr. John Oryema, graduated from McMaster’s medical school in 1984 after immigrating to Canada from Uganda. He is a descendent of the same African tribe as Obama’s father, she said.

Despite the long odds of meeting Obama in person, Oryema said she hasn’t given up hope.

"I’m not ruling out any possibilities," she said. "I’m keeping my fingers crossed."
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