Inauguration from the crowd

Grace Christiansen

Last Tuesday, 1.5 million people gathered in Washington to witness Barack Obama become the 44th president of the United States of America. I was one of them.
I got to D.C. a few days before the inauguration and during that time met people from all over the country who had come to see the ceremony too.
While there, I asked several of these people why they had come to Washington and I received a variety of answers. Some said they thought it was historic, or they had worked for the campaign. More than a few made not-quite-jokes about wanting to see George W. Bush’s reign officially end.
But eventually, almost everyone would pause, think for a moment, and then say that they just had to be there, that they just needed to be able to say that they had been there, and then they would smile and say something along the lines of, “It’s just amazing, isn’t it?”
And it is exactly that nonspecific joy and amazement that pervaded the city both on the day of the inauguration itself and the days preceding it. Everyone had their own reason for being in D.C. and being excited, but everyone’s excitement also seemed to meld into an intensely palpable collective joy.
While walking down the streets lined with both stores and people selling “Obama gear” – my favorite being a gigantic cake with the Obama logo on it – people would randomly shout “Obama!” and the crowds surrounding them would cheer. While watching the inaugural concert, people surrounded me with tears streaming down their faces, and I don’t think it had anything to do with Bono.
On the day of the actual inauguration I arrived at my designated gate after it had already closed and ended up watching the ceremony on a screen with hundreds of other people who had also mistakenly thought that having a ticket meant that you didn’t have to be there at 5 a.m.
It was disappointing for a moment until once again somebody shouted “Obama!” Everyone cheered and I let go of my dreams of the silver standing-only section and joined in with everyone else. After President Obama took his oath, it sounded like the entire city was cheering.
The collective happiness that day was infectious and exhilarating in a way that is difficult to convey. All I can say is that there aren’t very many circumstances in which I will wait around for hours only to see a car, surrounded by other cars driving slowly by. But this day was different, and all I can offer as an explanation is that I just had to be there.