Bedecked in official inaugural buttons, bundled up in layers upon layers of our warmest clothes, and sleep-deprived, Tiffany and I ventured into the brisk Monday Morning that was Inauguration Day. It was 4:30 am and we were armed with footwarmers, bagels with cream cheese, snack bars, bottles of water, a blanket, and wristlets. We boarded the Metro and as soon as we exited the station around 5 am, we found ourselves in the line of the Gold and Yellow ticket holders. We knew ahead of time that our tickets guaranteed us a spot on a vast lawn that was right behind the reflecting pool in front of the capitol. Tiff and I stood in line with other excited people for approximately an hour and a half. I will be honest, I was cranky, I wanted coffee, and I was cold. Even though I had thick tights under my thickest jeans, wool knee socks, footwarmers, and boots, my feet and legs were still freezing. Tiff and I wrapped the blanket around our waists as we fumbled with all of our other belongings that a security notice had told us could not be in a bag over 6″x8″x4″, so we just stuffed our pockets. The line would advance at random points without any clear indication as to why. Finally, we were told the gates had been opened. We clutched our tickets and quickly progressed, knowing that the sooner we got to security, the sooner we would be at our spots. We hustled to one entry point where we emptied all our pockets and opened our wristlets and walked through a metal detector. Cleared, we continued our fast pace. We came across one worker who was about to direct us towards the left, but then said nine key words: “Wait, are those yellow? That makes a big difference,” and then directed us towards the right. It turns out that we would have been MUCH farther from the action if we had gone to the gold section. Tiff and I nearly jogged and realized that we would be in the FIRST ROW of our section!!! How the heck did that happen?? (Definitely the Founding Fathers – they clearly had our best interest in mind all weekend).
But it was only 7:10 at this point, still four and half hours away from the start of the ceremony. Little did we know, but we would be on our feet for several hours straight, as there were no chairs and we didn’t feel like sitting on the ground was the best option. We settled in and chatted with the people around us. One woman expressed her disbelief over the fact that this kind of cold was something we were accustomed to, as she was from the U.S. Virgin Islands and had been at the President Obama’s First Inauguration. Two middle-aged women behind us seemed to know everything there was to know about politics in DC and shared their excitement with us; they, too, had been to President Obama’s first Inauguration.
Finally, the musical prelude commenced at 9:30, which made the time go by much more quickly. We caught glimpses of the motorcade progressing up the road to the left of the Capitol, freaking out that the president and every one of our representatives would soon be present. The Oaths of Office were given, and an assertive address left me with hope that we will see the change the country so desperately needs in this next term. I found myself looking at either the Capitol or just at a point in front of me because looking at the jumbo-tron reminded me too much of when I watched the 2009 Inauguration on a projector screen in my college’s campus hub. I wanted to feel like I was there and to fully be present in the fact that I was at an event that has only happened 57 times in our nation’s entire history. It was remarkable.
One of the most moving moments throughout the ceremony was being with so many diverse Americans. When Obama mentioned women, a bunch of us cheered. When he referenced Latinos, a group behind us cheered. This pattern continued and there was something so moving to me in it. We clearly all had very different interests in what the next 4 years would do for us, but we were united on a lawn, cheering for the president that was elected by the will of a free people. It was nothing short of beautiful to stand there as a testament of what democracy can accomplish.
At the end of the ceremony, Tiff and I had to trek about 15 blocks to where our tickets to the parade were. We hustled over there, eager to just sit down and relax. Sadly, once we got there, Tiff and I got separated for the parade when she kindly went to get us food. Before our separation, though, we realized that our ticket seats placed us at the very end of the parade route and we expressed our hope that we would still be able to see the President and Vice President.
And we were.
I was overcome with excitement when I and those around me looked down just past our seating area and realized that the President had exited his car. Between the screaming and the cheering, I snapped several awesome photos. The President couldn’t have been more that 50 feet away from me, and seeing him and his wife as well as the Bidens in person felt like a dream.
Did this really just happen? Was I really present for all of this, an event that I said I would attend 4 years ago when I watched the 56th Inauguration on a screen in Massachusetts?
It was real, and it was something I will never forget.
I will never forget the feeling I had among so many of my fellow Americans, from all different walks of life, cheering for hope for the future.
I will never forget spending a long weekend with a friend who is so far away now, reminiscing on moments in the past and sharing dreams of an ambitious future.
I will never forget the conversation I had on the phone with my grandfather when I got home about the whole experience, when he told me in response to my description of the FDR Memorial about the time he saw Eleanor Roosevelt while he was on rest and recovery in the Pacific during World War II.
I will never forget the excitement I had to go back to my students and tell them all about my experience at a moment in history.
And I will never forget how proud I was to be an American that weekend while I was present for an event that shows the power of democracy, in a place that serves as a reminder that the protection of natural rights like those of equality and free speech enable people like Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight for the rights that all people deserve.