Patrick Munnelly awoke before dawn on Inauguration Day so he could get to President Obama’s swearing-in ceremony before the gates opened at 6 a.m.

He was one of 30 Suffolk undergraduate and graduate students participating in an intensive two-week course on American government and the inauguration in Washington DC that included daily lectures featuring a range of prominent speakers from government, the media, and academia.

But the inauguration was the highlight of the experience.

“President Obama’s speech was amazing. The audience was captivated. He is one of the first presidents to talk about social issues in an inaugural address,” says Munnelly

Social issues and policy are of particular interest to the Government major from Peabody, Mass. In one lecture, Brian Lamb, the founder of C-Span, moderated a student discussion on gun control.

“It was really interesting to hear the differing opinions of my peers, to see the younger generation come together,” says Munnelly.

Tawfiq Tuffaha, a Government and Business double-major from Palestine, particularly enjoyed a lecture on poverty and race in America by activist and author Cornel West and PBS host Tavis Smiley.

Other speakers included Don Ritchie, U.S. Senate historian; Scott Horsley, NPR’s White House correspondent; BenLaBolt, senior adviser, Presidential Inaugural Committee; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; and Eugene Kang, Obama’s confidential assistant.

In the afternoons, the students toured Washington landmarks like the Jefferson Memorial, visited think tanks, and attended special events. At the Newseum, they ran into former president Bill Clinton, who was there for a private event.

“Clinton was really gracious; he stopped to say ‘hello’ and have his picture taken with a few of us,” says Tuffaha.

The course was offered in conjunction with the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars and drew college students from across the country.

Read Patrick Munnelly’s blog post on his experience.