Written by William Thomas
It’s difficult to put into words the atmosphere that descended upon Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20, 2009, the day that—as the United States of America has done for centuries now—a peaceful exchange of power took place.
In electing Barack Obama to be their 44th president, the American people blazed a trail for their country’s future over the next four years. While this path may diverge and encounter difficult terrain at times, it still stands that such a diverse culture as that which makes up the U.S. can unite under the flag of hope.
The day Barack Obama was sworn into office was the beginning of this American Dream, and like so many visionaries before him, the President was met with a resounding chorus of cheers. But like his predecessors, no matter how great the plans of one man, it takes the strength of a nation to see those plans to fruition.
This writer was fortunate enough to be standing in D.C. on the day that the U.S. turned a new page in history. This is a glimpse of what I saw in a city where, despite all their differences, Americans were brought together for the common purpose of a brighter future.
I had been invited to the Presidential Inauguration because of my involvement with a student leadership program that I attended fall of my senior year of high school. When I first received my invitation, I had not fully realized the importance of the event. But I accepted, and ten months later I found myself standing in D.C.’s Reagan National Airport, about to embark on what I believe will be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
I think it was at this moment, when I was standing in the airport with other students who had been invited, that the gravity of this momentous event began to sink in.
The following day, I arrived at the University of Maryland to hear General Colin Powell speak. I found myself placed in the front row, to the left of the stage where Powell would be speaking. Already, I was astounded by the sheer number of students filling the auditorium, all there for the same reason: to hear a great leader’s words on the country’s future.
When the General stepped onto the stage and began to speak, I was overpowered. His commanding but sincere voice calmly rolled like thunder to every student in their seat. He reminded everyone present that any great leader can have a vision, but must surround him or herself with devoted companions who believe in that vision too. Powell served under four presidents, and offered all those gathered at the university a glance at the world through the eyes of experience.
Later that afternoon, I attended the Inaugural Celebration, and met with a sea of people already gathered out on the Mall to celebrate this historic event. Amidst all the individuals crowded out on the ground between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, there was a sense of unbridled joy unlike anything I had experienced before. These people were not out for themselves; they were there to celebrate.
The following day, I returned to the University of Maryland to hear Vice President Al Gore speak. While he mentioned his work in combating the climate crisis, Gore also focused on this generation taking a lead on issues like global warming, encouraging students to take control of their future. A very appropriate statement, I felt, considering the great youth turnout of the recent election.
The next day, I found myself out on the Mall again, except this time it was 5:00 a.m. As I worked my way up to a spot at 4th Street, where I would stand for the next several hours, my head began to spin as I took in the day.
As the crowd grew larger and more tightly packed, I noticed something curious. Instead of the confusion and short tempers found in most large crowds, there was a sense of unity and pride.
These were not war-weary people or individuals in tough economic times. These were simply Americans, joined together with one another ushering in a new beginning for their country and themselves.
Complete strangers took each others’ pictures with the Capitol glistening in the background and, around 12:30 p.m. on that day, Americans from all around the country had their voices answered.
Barack Obama is now the 44th President of the United States of America. While he has great hopes and ideas for the country, he needs the help of the people who elected him to office to put those thoughts into practice.
I understand now what a momentous day that was, but I believe it is only a preview of more momentous days to come.