America Welcomes New President
January 27, 2009
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As soon as our car reached Washington D.C. two days before Inauguration Day, there was no doubt that Obama fever was in the air. Within minutes, we passed two separate businesses that had been converted into Obama-Biden gift shops. I walked over from my friend’s dorm at George Washington University to the free inauguration concert that was being held at the Lincoln Memorial which featured performers such as Bruce Springsteen, U2, Beyonce, Will.I.Am, Sheryl Crow, and many more, not to mention the many celebrity presenters. I arrived just as Denzel Washington came out to start the event, but by that point most of the 600,000 people who were in attendance had arrived so I could not even see the Lincoln Memorial. On my 10-minute walk back to GWU, I must have passed a hundred street venders, selling everything from the typical Obama-Biden t-shirts to Obama shot glasses. I even saw a woman selling chocolate bars saying “Chocolate for our First Chocolate President” on the label.
On the day of the inauguration, my friend and I left his dorm at about 6:00 a.m. On our walk to the Capitol we walked passed what seemed like endless rows of porta-potties. I learned that there were 12,000 of them there, which only worked out to be about one for every 6,000 that were in attendance. We arrived at the National Mall at about 6:30 a.m. and there must have been close to a million people already there. A friend of mine who went with his dad told me afterwards that he arrived two hours before I did. People quickly filled in all around us and soon it was impossible to move in any direction. It was freezing cold and it there was no way for anybody to sit down, but it didn’t seem to matter to anybody because we were all just happy to be able to participate in such a historic event for our nation.
Around 10:00 a.m., notable people started making their way onto the capital steps and a voice over the PA system announced all of the elected officials and appointments as they took their seats. When the video screen showed Obama’s limousine arrive, the crowd went wild. The living former presidents and first ladies were the last to make their way to the stage before then-President Bush and now-President Obama appeared. Bush got booed quite heavily, which I felt took away from the event, because even though it was understandable that the Obama supporters in the crowd were not fans of the outgoing president, it was not the time or the place for booing.
After performances by Aretha Franklin and a quartet of Yo-Yo Ma, Izhak Perlman, Gabriella Montero, and Anthony McGill, Biden was the first to be sworn in, by Associate Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. The massive crowd erupted when Stevens shook Biden’s hand, myself included, as I am a huge Biden supporter. Obama was next and you could feel everyone in attendance holding their breath as the oath was taken (even though both Obama and Chief Justice Roberts stumbled on the wording). As Stevens said, “Congratulations Mr. President” the crowd cheered louder than I had ever heard before. It was a great moment to realize that Barack Obama was now actually the president of the United States. The uproar continued until President Obama stepped up to the microphone to give his inaugural address, at which point the mass of two million went silent.
I had a friend ask me when I returned to my home in New Jersey, “After being there and standing in the cold for so long and only being able to see Obama on a screen, do you regret that you went?” I didn’t have to think at all. Being able to say I was in attendance for probably the most historic event of my lifetime was absolutely worth it.