Inauguration 2009

Maggie Mallon

After any event of historic significance, Americans try to localize the occasion by asking the familiar query, “Where were you when it happened?” To Villanova students, the 2008 election was a landmark event. For many, it was the first presidential election of which they were consciously aware, as well as the first in which they were able to vote. When Barack Obama, the first African-American president, took the oath of office on Jan. 20, Villanova students witnessed an event that will elicit that frequent question from future generations.

With an extra 1.8 million travelers gathering in Washington to watch, and millions more gathering around their television sets, Obama stood atop the West Front of the U.S. Capitol building to become the 44th president of the United States. Americans traveled from all corners of the country to witness the ceremony. Thousands of college students extended the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend an extra day to be part of the events.

The youth demographic made up a huge constituency of Obama supporters, and, according to a report from the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted for Obama. College students who had followed the 2008 campaign for nearly two years flocked to Washington to witness history in action. Among them were many Villanova students.

“It was a profound feeling to know history was happening right there,” sophomore Amanda Hogan said. Hogan is the former co-president of Students for Barack Obama, a now inactive student-run organization that campaigned for the newly inaugurated president through much of 2008.

Although Washington was packed with hordes of people, the city was noticeably cheerful as the inauguration approached.

“In D.C., you could see the change instantly,” senior Alexandria Nguyen said. “People were so much friendlier and in high spirits, especially with the crises that we’re currently facing. It was almost contagious.”

Events were planned throughout the weekend to celebrate the inauguration, and Villanova students participated in the assorted festivities that took place. Highlights included the “We Are One” concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the various inaugural balls that took place.

On the morning of the inauguration, crowds braved freezing temperatures to gather along the National Mall, a nearly two-mile stretch between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument.

“I thought the inaugural ceremony was absolutely beautiful,” senior Sinead Cloughley said. “I couldn’t see a single thing, not even the JumboTron screens, but being among hundreds of thousands of absolute strangers all crying and laughing and celebrating our new President was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world.  I didn’t even mind the cold because we were all so huddled together.”

Traveling was a difficult feat for some students, with both Amtrak trains and Chinatown buses selling out. For students who had not made advance plans, the University provided a last-minute travel option.

CAT, SGA and the Multicultural Students League sponsored a shuttle to Washington D.C. The bus left from Pike Lot at 6 a.m. on the morning of the inauguration and arrived at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium by 9:15 a.m. According to Director of Student Development Tom Mogan, about 45 students used the service provided by the University.

This shuttle transportation was the first time Villanova students requested such a service to witness a presidential inauguration. Mogan noted that Student Development works to support activities students express interest in, and enough interest was generated to provide the shuttle for the inauguration.

Being only a week into the spring semester, many professors were lenient about excusing students from class to observe the inauguration. Mogan provided any documentation for students who needed an excused absence.

Many other Villanova students, however, chose to watch the events from the comfort of their own rooms. Some professors tuned into the events during their classes, while others dismissed their students early so they could watch Obama’s inaugural address.

“I thought he gave a good speech,” said junior Steve Nelson, who was able to watch the inaugural address during a break between classes

A McCain supporter, Nelson found himself hopeful about the future and the Obama administration after watching the inauguration.

“He really tried to back up what he said during the campaign during his speech, it really sounded like he’s ready to step in and go to work,” Nelson said.

Some students, however, were more reserved in their approach to the inaugural address.

“It wasn’t based on issues, even though it was a beautiful speech,” junior Andrew Mackenzie said. “There wasn’t a lot of substance to it. It was inspirational, but he didn’t address things.”

Although Villanova students shared different sentiments regarding the events of the inauguration, they are interested in the direction Obama will take as the new president and what changes the new administration will bring to the country. Among the most curious are members of Villanova’s College Republicans.

“I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Obama will do while in office,” College Republican Secretary Lauren Fiori said. “I think more than anything, I’ll be looking forward to how well he integrates both Republicans and Democrats. The world today is so political, and I feel like no progress will be made unless he’s able to do his best to be open and to work with everyone, rather than primarily with his own party.”

Now that the publicity surrounding the inauguration has subsided, the country looks toward the future with Obama. Students recognize the gravity of the problems that the president faces, and only time will tell how he will respond to the challenges that lay before him.

Although the politics of Villanova’s campus vary, the historic nature of Obama’s inauguration resonates with every student. Years from now, when asked, “Where were you when Barack Obama became president,” Villanova students will be sure to recall that historic day.

The Villanovan at the Inauguration:

With the dome of the Capitol approximately a quarter of a mile in front of me, I watched as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. I was situated between the start of the National Mall and the West Front of Congress, with masses of people all around. Toddlers sat on their fathers’ shoulders and the limbs of spectators dangled from the branches of trees as they attempted to make their own arboreal seats. Some even tested their acrobatic skills, teetering on the edge of concrete crowd barriers, in attempt to get a closer glimpse of the historic events unfolding before them. It was an incredible experience to be among them.

My decision to travel to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration was made at the last minute, after my brother, a graduate student at Georgetown, made an urgent phone call imploring me to join him.

“You can’t miss the inauguration,” he told me. “You have to be down here!”

So, that Friday, just four days before Obama became president, I found myself frantically searching the Amtrak Web site to get a last minute reservation. Luck was on my side, and I booked a train for 12:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon with a return trip on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m.

Walking down the street, there was a tangible sense of optimism emanating from the crowds of people passing one another on the sidewalk. An overwhelming sense of hope for the Obama Administration radiated throughout the city. Everywhere you turned, there was Obama merchandise being sold. People proudly carried canvas tote bags with images of the First Family, donned the smiling face of the new president across T-shirts and sweatshirts in a rainbow of colors, and sported knit caps embellished with the iconic Obama logo to keep the winter chill from their heads. It was a remarkable site, and I doubt there have been past instances of such overwhelming support for a president-elect.

On the morning of the inauguration, my brother and I got a much later start that we intended. At about 9:00 a.m., after being joined by one of his friends, the three of us boarded a city bus en route to the center of the city. Fortunately, the first stop was directly across the street from my brother’s apartment, so we were able to get seats. Like sardines in a tin can, travelers packed themselves onto the bus at each stop, trying to squeeze as many people on the bus as humanly possible.

The bus, which was supposed to bring us to Union Station, could not get past Chinatown and we were dropped off about a mile away from the Mall. As we stepped off the bus, packs of people were flocking toward the north side of the Mall. We attempted to join the throngs of people and get a viewing spot, but realized it would be nearly impossible.

Knowing the crowds would make walking a difficult feat, we decided to take the Metro to the station closest to the Mall. As we stepped off the L’Enfant station escalator back into the sunlight, we began our march toward the National Mall. Downtrodden travelers venturing in the opposite direction, however, indicated our attempts would not be successful.

“It’s too crowded,” one man called out, to no one in particular. “You can’t see anything.”

After hearing this, my always-adventurous brother decided to venture in the complete opposite direction of the mall. We headed east, this time, with a view of the capitol being our ultimate goal.

Once again, luck was on my side, and the streets south of the Mall were deserted in comparison to the blocks north. With no security checkpoints, we managed to finagle a viewpoint within the ticketed area, settling on our spot at just about 11 a.m.

Though I couldn’t see the JumboTron in the distance, being so close was an amazing experience. Everyone stood completely silent, enthralled with the ceremony occurring before them. After Obama took the inaugural oath, the crowd erupted with a “Yes we can” chant as the 21-cannon salute roared in the distance.

We stood before the Capitol for the duration of Obama’s inaugural address, leaving shortly after so I could make my train back to Villanova. With the dome of the Capitol in the distance, I knew that my brother was right. The inauguration was something I couldn’t miss.