Inauguration Through Eyes of Colgate Students

Cody Semrau

Once every four years, America celebrates a tradition that dates back two centuries. On Monday, January 21, the 12 members of Colgate’s Washington D.C. study group and Professor of Political Science Robert Kraynak had the opportunity to become part of that tradition.

Bracing against the frigid temperatures, we woke up before sunrise and made our way toward the National Mall where President Obama’s inaugural ceremonies were to take place. Although Obama’s second inauguration was not expected to match the record setting 1.8 million people who had attended back in 2009, the streets of D.C. were still packed with an estimated one million people who had come from across the U.S. and throughout the globe to see the president begin his second term.

“Attending the inauguration was an unbelievable experience,” D.C. study group member junior Jacob Freeman, said. “Despite the cold, it was a powerful moment to be with almost one million other Americans celebrating our democratic process. After a hectic commute towards the National Mall following thousands of other excited spectators, coming out of the metro station into the cheering crowds felt incredible.” “Even though we couldn’t see the ceremony up close, it was still incredible to have the opportunity to witness such a significant moment in history,” junior Paige Locke said.

Surrounding the National Mall were a number of bigscreens so that spectators could see the ceremony even if they were hundreds of yards from the Capitol steps. Although most of those people attending couldn’t even make out Obama’s silhouette, the excitement and electricity were not lost on anyone in attendance. Small American flags were distributed to the crowds so that a sea of red, white and blue could be seen waving above the masses of heads.

“Everyone in the crowd was freezing, tired and packed together, but everyone was there for the same purpose,” Locke said. “A presidential inauguration is one of those rare times where so many people from such distinct backgrounds are able to put their political motivations aside and support our country’s ideals together. It would be an understatement to say that we were all inspired.”

With a press pass obtained from the Maroon-News, this reporter was able observe the inauguration a mere 30 yards from the president’s podium. After making it to the National Mall and passing through airport-like security, a sea of journalists from across the country as well as a number of celebrities to the likes of Katy Perry, John Mayer, Eva Longoria and Stevie Wonder filled the crowd.

Just before noon, after publicly taking the Oath of office, President Obama approached the podium as the crowds chanted his name. For 19 minutes, Obama gave an inaugural address that captivated the audience.

From education and taxes to gay rights and global warming, Obama spoke to a wide array of issues that were at times greeted with tumultuous cheer. It just so happened that this inaugural celebration also fell on the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This coincidence was not lost on Obama.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths —  that all of us are created equal –  is the star that guides us still,” Obama said. “Just as it guided our forbearers through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”

Obama’s inaugural address, whether loved or loathed, left all of us with an unassailable call to action.

“That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American,” Obama said. “Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.”

Although this momentous inauguration of our nation’s first black president was both crowded and cold, it was an impressive celebration of the American spirit and tradition that will not soon be forgotten by any of us who had the opportunity to attend.

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