By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — When President Barack Obama places his hand on the Lincoln Bible on Monday to take the oath of office for his second term, watching from the National Mall will be 17-year-old Salisbury resident Ryan Silva.
It’s not his love of art that is taking the senior graphic design student at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School in Haverhill to Obama’s public swearing-in.
Rather, it’s the passion for politics he’s had since he was 12 years old that has led to his reserved spot at the festivities as a member of the Presidential Inaugural Conference.
The invitation to the four-day event came because Silva is an alumnus of the Junior National Youth Leaders Conference, nominated as a sixth-grader by his Salisbury Elementary School teacher Elsa Francescone. That nomination represented his first trip to Washington, D.C.
Two years later, Silva was invited to the Presidential Inaugural Conference for Obama’s first swearing-in. However, the cost of the trip, four-day hotel stay and tuxedo for the formal gala was a little beyond his family’s finances at the time, his mother, Paula (Zitzow) Silva said.
But when he got a repeat invitation not long before the November election, Silva’s father, Dan Silva, stepped in to make it possible.
“I’ve said thank you to my father about a million times,” Ryan Silva said. “It’s awesome that I can go. It’s very exciting.”
Silva said his interest in politics started from watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” But what began with laughter grew to an understanding and appreciation of the important role politics plays in the everyday life of Americans.
“I started with the `Daily Show;’ it’s my favorite program, but then I actually started to watch the real news,” Silva said. “It’s good to know about your government and what’s happening in politics.
“I feel politics needs a little comedy or it can get pretty bland and depressing, but some things need to be handled with more sensitivity, like what happened in Newtown (Conn.).”
The youngest of eight children, Ryan Silva’s interest in government and politics is fostered by his parents. He and his dad talk politics a lot, which has occasionally led to some interesting dinner conversations, his mother said.
Those discussions coupled with their son’s political acumen and maturity led his parents to give him the nod for this solo excursion, which they believe could lay the groundwork for an interesting future, she said.
“He’s always done well in school, he gets good grades and he’s just a great kid,” said Paula Silva, adding her son recently designed a logo at school used by the Massachusetts Administrators of Special Education, which honored him at a luncheon.
Ryan Silva expanded his love of politics at Whittier through his American history courses and this year’s honors United Nations course with teacher Jana Brown. He said the course enhances his political insight to global events, leading to research and debates on the problems facing the world today like the Middle East and nuclear armament.
He’s been so taken with politics that he joined the Model U.N. Club, which meets weekly after school under the guidance of Brown and fellow teacher Scott Robertson.
“Ryan is very passionate about politics and very well informed on both national and international issues,” Brown said. “He is excellent in our class debates; he’s very well spoken. I’m so happy he’s getting to go to this conference. I know he’ll learn so much there.”
Educators like Brown have had such an influence on Ryan that he is seriously considering a career in education after college. He’s looking to possibly continue his education at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, where he would not only be able to hone his artistic talents, but study political science as well.
“I want to be a teacher because I think it would be very rewarding,” Silva said. “And then, if I wanted to, I could always go into politics, maybe run for office.”
What party he’d represent remains to be seen. Although Obama was Silva’s candidate in the last election, he currently doesn’t consider himself a Democrat or a Republican.
“In Model U.N. class, we took a questionnaire to see where our views stood politically,” he said. “The range was from zero to 40, with zero being the most conservative and 40 the most liberal. I scored a 22, smack in the middle.”
Silva said he’d like to do a little political research to further develop his views and a day at the Statehouse in Boston with state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, would rate right up there as “amazing.”
And while attending the Presidential Inaugural Conference this weekend is exciting enough, he’ll head to Washington, D.C, tomorrow with one other dream — however slim it might be.
“I would really love to shake hands with the president,” he said.
The Presidential Inaugural Conference is a nonpartisan educational event held in Washington, D.C. every four years for middle school, high school and college students in celebration and recognition of the Inauguration of the President and Vice President of the United States.
The event consists of separate conferences for each educational level, and includes a variety of exclusive activities for those attending, such as special presentations from keynote speakers — former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Ryan Silva’s case — and explorations of the presidential campaigns, the electoral process and the presidency.
Activities are planned around the public swearing-in ceremony of the President and Vice President as well as the inaugural parade.