Alumnus Blog: Sharing the Inaugural Experience from D.C.
On Actually Being There for Obama's Inauguration
by Alex Will '08
I always found it tacky when writers began their commentaries by exclaiming that "they didn't know where to start." I thought it to be a cheap way to introduce a piece, a cop-out for an inability to find a creative introduction. Maybe I felt that way because I had never been in a situation where I felt overcome by emotion. A moment so singularly powerful that words can't even begin to describe what you were feeling. I think I experienced that moment on January 20, 2009.
Now I know there are some of you who are reading this and rolling your eyes. Figuring that I'm playing into the "Obama-messiah" misconception, but you're whole-heartedly wrong. While this truly was a powerful moment no matter where you were, it took on a whole different meaning if you were there to experience it. Nearly 2 million people came from around the world, to stand packed together, on a blistering cold winter day, to see this event in person. No matter what direction you looked, all you could see were people. And these weren't the typical attendees of a presidential inauguration. They represented every age, every background, and every corner of the planet. When something like that happens, for whatever reason, you can't help but be overcome with emotion. On top of that, all of these people came to see the inauguration of a man whose name sounds quite different from those of his predecessors. A man whose
very skin color had never done what he was about it do. That in itself is enough to bring you to tears.
About halfway through President Obama's inaugural address, two boys next to me began play fighting. Soon their play fighting got a little rough and one of them stepped on my foot. Thinking about how much I had walked that day, and how long I had waited for this moment, one would expect that I would not be thrilled. As I looked down at the boy, he immediately looked up at me and said, "Pardon!" Any anger I may have felt, was completely gone. While I knew there were many non-US citizens in DC for this event (I had passed by many before), I hadn't stopped to consider the ramifications. Obviously these boys were too young to recognize why their parents had brought them here. I don't know how far they had traveled, but obviously their parents felt this moment to be important enough for their kids to be able to say that they experienced it. When was the last time you attended inaugural events in another country? Do
you even know what other countries do? And don't think I'm pointing any fingers, I've never been off the East Coast, but that moment had a very profound effect on me. This moment obviously transcended borders and cultures. And when I looked around, it certainly felt that way too.
The most breathtaking moment of the day came when President Obama appeared ready to begin his address. No one needed to quiet anyone else down, it happened on its own. Can you imagine standing with 2 million other people, in almost complete silence? No cars, no horns, no yelling, not even moving. You could hear the echo's of the loud speakers for long after he would pause. The only breaks in the silence came when the crowd would erupt in applause.
I'm not sure I will ever be able to hear his inaugural address and be able to judge it fairly. How can I separate his words for that moment? I believe it to be impossible. Regardless of the technology we possess, that experience will forever live in a bubble of the physical moment. I will always remember those words being charged by the energy of the millions around me. Whenever I hear them, I will immediately be swept back to that day. I can only hope that is something I will never forget.