Few things get me out of bed before 5 am and I have since learned that inaugurations are one of them. Despite being awakened every hour by choruses of honking and sirens in my mere 5-6 hours of sleep the night prior to inauguration day, I awoke at the painful hour of 4:30 am EST, jazzed for everything I was about to experience.
The day can easily be summarized in three words: walking, standing, waiting. About an hour and a half (to put it liberally) of the 13.5 hour day was actually filled with “something.” The other 12 hours? Walking, standing, waiting. As I walked up the National Mall, I watched the glowing sun peak over the dome of the nation’s capital and I knew it was going to be a good day. A stunning day really. A day unlike anything I had ever experienced.
Now I could go on and on about the nuances of the day from what I wore to what I smelled, but that would literally take pages. It was cold. It was long. And at times, I’ll admit to questioning exactly why I was there. Exhausted last night after standing for over half of a day, not to mention all of the adrenaline that had rushed through me, I managed to muster up these measly conclusions on the day:
I’m not really the type to wave a flag with a lot of pride. Don’t get me wrong, I’m blessed to be born and raised in this nation and am infinitely grateful for the privilege and opportunity I’ve had here. I also respect the anomaly of our governmental system, hence why I would even stand at an inauguration for hours in the cold. I respect the flag, but flag-waving still isn’t much of my thing. However I was handed a flag (along with every other person on the Mall) right before the ceremony began and I went ahead and waved it. Out of honest pride. I thought about how 150 years ago, blacks were barely on the brink of receiving status as human beings. 50 years ago, a man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on that very same Mall of a dream he had, that someday his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” I remembered how I had the text of that speech hanging on the wall of my room as an elementary school kid. Then I witnessed the 44th president of the United States—who happens to be black—take his oath of office for his second term. There really are no words. It was worth a flag wave.
My toes were a little numb, but I was indescribably alive. All around me, I heard conversations of the American people as a whole: high school students, college students, older people, blacks, whites, lots of Democrats, maybe a few Republicans, locals, travelers. As I stood I pondered, “why the euphoria?” Let’s face it. We spend 1460 out of the 1461 days of a full four years bitching and moaning about social security, fiscal cliffs, the definition of marriage, and all sorts of other “my team versus your team” hot topics. So why today did I witness a million people wildly wave American flags in unison at the declaration of five words: President of the United States?
The presidential inauguration could be exactly what makes America, America. As President Obama so eloquently touched on in his address (I ate my 99-cent, 2-pack Fig Newtons during his speech by the way; anyone who knows me will appreciate that tidbit), George Washington himself predicted the thing that would set these United States apart is the peaceful transfer of power. Though power wasn’t necessarily being “transferred” today it was renewed and it is symbolic. That’s America. We complain and debate, until this odd intangible of patriotism takes over and then it’s all about the stars and stripes, rather than the red and blue.
This post isn’t particularly related to “course content,” but I believe (and I’m hoping Jim will back me up here) that sometimes life’s greatest lessons aren’t learned in classrooms or through doing assignments. That’s why this trip exists and that’s why I’m on it. I am forever grateful.