On Anna Kathleen DeVolld’s first trip to Washington, D.C., she flipped the switch that lit the 2015 Capitol Christmas tree.
But the fifth-grader’s visit wasn’t the only big first marked by this year’s lighting ceremony on Dec. 2. The 75-foot Lutz spruce, cut from the Chugach National Forest, was the farthest travelled timber in the Capitol’s history, after making a 4,400-mile journey to the west lawn, the first to be shipped all the way from Alaska.
“I was feeling really happy and proud that the tree had come all the way from Alaska and that so many people came to support it and me,” Anna DeVolld said. “It was really beautiful and it made a great symbol for Alaska.”
Included in the crowd was Anna’s entire family, also on their first Washington, D.C., trip for the event. Along with her father John, mother Shona and her younger sister Sara, Anna checked off a long list of historic sites and seasonal celebrations. They stayed in the city from Nov. 28 through Dec. 5. Part of the trip was sponsored by Colorado-based nonprofit Choose Outdoors, one of the partners on the Christmas tree project.
“We saw all the monuments and memorials,” Anna DeVolld said. “We had a tour of the Capitol building, went to the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and Senate building, we went to the Air and Space Museum and Museum of Natural History,” and the list goes on.
The Connections Home School Program student said the extensive sightseeing brought her history lessons alive.
The capstone was, of course, the lighting ceremony.
Shona DeVolld said the night started at the United States Department of Agriculture building for the Chief’s Reception, where the family met up with Sen. Lisa Murkowski. From there they took the Metro to the United States Capitol Subway System to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s office.
“He was so helpful and nice and kind,” Shona DeVolld said. “We met him and got a couple pictures taken with him. When we walked into the beautiful room, all of our Alaska dignitaries were there.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, also attended.
Anna said they talked about “my writing, and what I like to do, what I did in D.C., and mostly, they thought I worked really hard.”
Before the event the DeVollds shared a few words and hot chocolate with the officials. Sara and Anna stood in front of Ryan on stage during the ceremony, while Shona and John stood close behind. Ryan invited Anna to the podium in front of a packed audience to read the essay that won her the Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Essay Contest and the honor of turning on the tree’s brilliant strands of bitty bulbs.
Even though it was raining, Shona DeVolld said, it was a lovely ceremony, complete with a strong sense of community and feelings of pride for Alaska.
“We enjoyed the fact they kept bringing up how big and how unique it was. It was neat to hear on a national stage,” Shona DeVolld said.
John DeVolld noted, for many locals, the annual celebration marks the start of the holiday season.
“The people in D.C. tend to think that this is a pretty significant thing,” John DeVolld said.
While visiting the sites and hearing the sounds of the city, anyone who found out the family was a part of this year’s ceremony were supportive and excited, he said. They also recognized the significance of Alaska’s first tree.
“It was important for the people here as well,” John DeVolld said.
It is a trip Anna DeVolld is not likely to forget, she said.
Ryan and Murkowski gave Anna words of encouragement about her essay, which she said made her more strongly consider becoming a writer, and even debate becoming a politician.
Shona DeVolld said numerous officials mentioned they wished Anna had been the writer of their own speeches that evening.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.