On January 20, 2009, I had the honor of witnessing a fellow Chicagoan and community enthusiast become the 44th President of the United States (along with about 2 million other people from around the world.) The experience filled me with many emotions. I felt proud of how far this country has come and of the man so many of us have come to admire. I also felt overwhelmed, not only by the mass of people crammed into a relatively small space, all straining to catch a glimpse of this historic moment, but also overwhelmed by all that this inauguration meant for this country, for myself, and for the people who fought, struggled, and died for this day.
The day started when I awoke at 4:30 in the morning ready to board the bus to D.C. I was of course tired, but the excitement burbling inside of me could not be hampered by sleep. My co-worker, Sandra and I, got to D.C. about an hour and half later. Since the area was surrounded by security, we had to walk a couple of miles to the Mall. As we got closer, the crowd grew exponentially. The sun rose above the capital building as we reached the outskirts of the Mall, suddenly surrounded by a mass of people. You could feel the excitement and anxiousness emanating from the crowd. The brisk cold air, miles of walking, and early morning start didn't seem to bother anyone. The anticipation of the impending moment was too strong to ignore.
With tickets in hand, Sandra and I walked with the crowd to the Silver Gated area. We arrived at the gate, packed like sardines, and were suddenly stopped. After about an hour, we still hadn't moved more than a couple of feet. The crowd, including myself, slowly grew restless. Finally, as the band began to play, we realized we wouldn't be able to enter the Mall. Seeing the Capitol Building to my right, so close, yet so far away, I was admittedly disappointed. Sandra and I decided to follow a line out of the crowd. We went to the American Indian Museum, just outside the Mall, where a couple hundred people were crowded in front of a big screen to watch the event.
The people inside were just as excited, and it still felt satisfying to watch the event on television with this diverse crowd as the events unfolded just outside the door. There's something powerful about being surrounded by complete strangers, yet sharing the same emotions. To cheer and cry with these people was truly amazing. As President Obama, addressed us, his "fellow citizens," asking us to to unite and share the burden of bringing the country out from its current trouble, I was struck by a sense of confidence that we're ready for this challenge. Just the day before, on MLK day, I participated in a service project with thousands of other enthusiastic participants, preparing care packages for service men and women. Millions of my "fellow citizens" were participating in similar acts of service around the country, many inspired by the President's call to honor the special day by helping others. I can't help but be hopeful that this inspiration will continue, that people will do what they can to repair the country, not only for their own benefit, but for the benefit of all their fellow citizens.