Barack Obama’s ideals and visions for this country were not new. The history of the United States of America has always been underscored by the concept of hope and a steadfast belief in change. Every history or social studies lesson from elementary school through college that I can recall was chock full of examples of both. However, it wasn’t until January 20th, 2009 that I fully understood and witnessed the realization of it all.
My trek to the National Mall started at 6:00am on Tuesday morning alongside seven friends, all of whom were lucky enough to have stayed about a mile from the Capitol Building in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of DC. It was a surreal experience to say the least, walking toward the Capitol as the sun was rising, being moved in whichever direction the mob of people around us happened to be going. Security was abundant, lines were long, bottlenecking was frequent, and coffee was scarce. In retrospect, the day had the makings of a disaster. Instead, it turned out to be one of the most uplifting and unifying events I’ve ever been a part of.
We stood on the lawn of the National Mall for five hours before any sign of the ceremony flashed before us on the jumbotrons that lined our viewing area, which was somewhere between the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. Amidst the freezing temperatures and crowds there was a sense of accomplishment that reigned over everyone when, two by two, each Senator and Representative made their way to his or her seat. The crowd’s anticipation grew each time a camera panned to the face of President Bush, who looked more concerned with the status of his flight back to Texas than he did with the oath that was about to be taken. Finally, the time came for Barack Obama to be sworn in. The oath, after a few mishaps, sent America’s lawn into a frenzy. There were tears, hugs, high-fives and deafening howls. We had a new president as well as a renewed lease on what it meant to be a part of a democracy.
I don’t think anyone is blind to the fact that the change President Obama speaks of will take years to actually take hold. The problems in Washington and abroad cannot be solved simply by electing an official that pledges to serve for the people and by the people. However, this President is capable of lighting a fire in his audience that no politician or leader has ever been able to come close to igniting. My hopes for our country are set high, and my friends and I walked away from the swearing in with a higher opinion of the American people as well.
Maybe it was the mind numbing cold, or maybe it was all of the pieces of great Inaugural flare I managed to purchase while walking around the district, but I can honestly say this trip was the most gratifying I’ve been on to date. Even with all the fanfare over, I’d highly recommend anyone to scour his or her favorite travel websites to buy a ticket to DC, call a long lost friend living in Washington, Maryland or Northern Virginia, and take a long, hard look around the country’s revamped capitol.
©Kaitlin Kirwin, of Boston, MA graduated from Wheaton College with a Bachelor’s Degree in political science and anthropology in 2007. She currently works in fundraising at Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund.