WFU students leave mark on inauguration

A Wake Forest student and alum both worked behind the scenes at the inaugural ceremony


Members of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), including Mondello and Blodgett, after the inauguration.

Cate Pitterle, News Editor

This year’s presidential inauguration on Jan. 20 was far from normal with waving flags in place of massive crowds, social distancing among the few guests in attendance and threats of violence after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. Behind the scenes, numerous planners brought an unconventional, but still solemn, ceremony to life.

Among those planners were multiple Wake Forest students and alumni. Senior Matthew Mondello served as an intern on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC). Jackson Blodgett, a 2020 graduate, served as Staff Assistant on that same committee.

“On a normal day, [my job] would entail answering phone calls from other offices in Congress,” Mondello said. “We always knew [the inauguration] was going to be unique because of the coronavirus pandemic, so eventually my responsibilities included escorting attendees to get tested for COVID-19, which was a mandatory requirement leading up to Inauguration Day.”

The threat of violence hung over the ceremony after the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol. The perimeter around the inauguration was heavily guarded, with National Guard members deployed across the Capitol grounds.

“It was unfortunate that the National Guard had to be deployed and that they had to carry heavy weaponry,” Mondello said. “But I was grateful that they were protecting us. I felt confident, safe and secure.”

Mondello noted that Washington, D.C.’s environment changed after the riots, though. As a lifelong resident of Arlington, Va., he was accustomed to pomp and circumstance surrounding typical inauguration ceremonies. This year, however, was different.

“I’ve been used to [a certain] environment pretty much all my life, but as the general public well knows, D.C. has undergone changes, obviously. It’s kind of isolating at times,” Mondello said. “You’re used to seeing tourists walking around. But with the COVID-19 pandemic and  due to security concerns, [there was] an absence of pretty much everyone except staff.”

Mondello, who started his internship about a month before the Jan. 6 riot, was planning to go into work that day. He said he was called last-minute and told not to go in for safety reasons.

“I was watching this all unfold on my television screen, there were a lot of layers of what I was feeling,” he said. “First was, that’s the route I take to get to work every day, that’s where I was standing just a few days ago. And there’s another layer of, wow, that’s the United States Capitol.”

Though Mondello found out about the internship from a family friend, his experience had a surprising connection to Wake Forest. Blodgett, who served as a Staff Assistant in the JCCIC, was Mondello’s residence advisor in his freshman dormitory.

“We would be in the same committee together, which was nice,” Mondello said. “He’s a Deacon.”