Tears of hope welled in the young eyes of Dakota Vaughan as he watched Donald Trump officially become the 45th President of the United States.
“This has been five, six months in the coming. I’m ready,” Vaughn said.
Anticipation built in the room where Vaughan, a senior, and the rest of his engineering business class at Clay County High School sat behind their computers with their eyes glued to the screen projecting the inauguration on Friday. Taught by Trey Corwell, the class took two periods off to witness the swearing in of the man who took more than 77 percent of their county’s vote for president in November.
“Many students here have never seen an inauguration before,” Corwell said, who donned an American flag tie with Bugs Bunny taking the place of President Abraham Lincoln at the iconic D.C. memorial. “Even kids in other classes I invited in to make sure they were able to experience it.”
Corwell’s students took turns listing the actions they expect and hope Trump will take as president – repealing the Affordable Care Act, deregulating businesses, keeping jobs in the U.S. and, unanimously, bringing back coal.
Trump’s promises to support the coal industry and decrease strict EPA regulations resonated especially in Clay after the county saw its largest coal mining operation, Fola, shut down a year ago.
Callie Stone looks at the laminated picture of Trump above her bed every day and sees someone who had coal miners seated behind him at a campaign rally in Charleston just before the state’s primary in May of last year.
“My whole family are coal miners,” said Stone, a senior at CCHS. “When we lost coal, we lost the ability to go to work every day and make good money and have something for our kids in the future.”
Stone’s uncle, who was laid off from his job at Fola, spent months trying to get back on his feet before applying for government assistance.
“I feel like that’s something West Virginians shouldn’t have to do,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to take the government’s money just because the government’s taking our jobs.”
Another CCHS senior, Eli Osbourne, has spent the past 15 months publicly expressing his support for Trump, who he believes is the messenger of good news to those who felt worse off towards the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.
“I went to the rally in Charleston, and I felt hope,” Osbourne said. “He didn’t need this. He’s had a successful business career, and he’s doing this for the good of America.”
Taking away coal mining jobs in the small mountain town infected other parts of Clay, too, according to Corwell. The county lost tax revenue, laid off government employees and cut after-school programs and buses. Given the chance to elect a president who pledged his allegiance to revive struggling economies like coal, the answer was clear.
“That’s really what I feel the people in these small towns in rural West Virginia are looking for,” Corwell said. “They’re looking for opportunity to grow and to see money come in again and see our towns prosper.”
Nearly 10,000 people live in Clay County, one of the central-most counties in the state, and just more than 500 students attend Clay County High School. Trump won every county in West Virginia.
But the president’s campaign, charged with speeches and commentary that pushed some nerves in the small town right to the very edge, still had a powerful effect. “I think Trump will try to follow through with some of his promises, but I don’t think he’s going to follow through with all of them, and I feel like he shouldn’t follow through with some of them,” said senior Amanda Townsend. “Like how he says he’s going to deport immigrants, I don’t feel like he should.”
While thousands lined the streets of Washington to protest Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric and past comments on women and minorities, many in this rural West Virginia high school applauded with confidence that their community, their state and even the country as a whole will be great again under the new administration.
“I didn’t think he’d make a good president in the beginning, but then I started listening to what he was saying, and more and more of it started making sense,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan stood at attention to salute the newly sworn-in president.
“We’re going in a whole new direction, and I think we’ll be alright.”
'100 Days in Appalachia' is a collaborative reporting project by West Virginia Public Broadcasting, West Virginia University's Reed College of Media and The Daily Yonder. For more on the project, follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and 100daysinappalachia.com.