Although many Hamilton students just finished arriving on campus for the spring semester, a group of 55 students quickly turned around and boarded a bus late Sunday night for a 24-hour round trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the Inauguration Day ceremony for President Barack Obama’s second term.
Spearheaded by the Hamilton College Democrats, the Black-Latino Student Union and the Womyn’s Center, the planning for this trip began last semester after President Obama’s victory on Election Night. Once the dates for the Inauguration were set, a bus reservation was secured with funding through Student Assembly and the available seats quickly filled with students eager to be a part of history.
After driving overnight through mostly rural New York and Pennsylvania, the group arrived in Washington, D.C., around 4 am and students dispersed in small groups to make their way to the National Mall. Hamilton students ended up everywhere from the front lawn of the Capitol to the grounds of the Washington Monument. The Hamilton students were part of a larger crowd of an estimated 800,000 to a million attendees who flooded into the city in a 48-hour period.
Among the largest challenges facing attendees at the Inauguration were navigating the huge crowds and waiting outside for hours in the middle of January. Despite being constantly surrounded by thousands of other people clambering for the best views of the president and the performers, Molly Voigt ’15 described the experience as being “truly unreal to be part of such a large crowd made up of people that were all there for the same cause… being part of such a large community that had such an electric atmosphere.”
As far as the weather, Krista Hesdorfer ’14 said “the actual temperature wasn’t so bad for those of us accustomed to upstate New York weather, but standing outside for several hours before the sun came up was tough. Luckily, we had plenty of hand warmers and the experience was well worth a chilly wait.”
Overall, considering the number of people in the city for the day, the event was well-planned and well-coordinated. The swearing in of Vice-President Biden and President Obama went smoothly and were followed by the President’s inaugural address and several performers including pop stars Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce. Once the festivities on the mall were completed, Hamilton students had the rest of the day to take in Washington’s many monuments, museums, shops and restaurants before returning to the bus in the early evening.
Of special note, during the afternoon a few students were able to attend a special reception at the office of Hamilton alumnus and newly elected Representative Matt Cartwright ’83 who represents Pennsylvania’s 17th district. At the reception, Hamilton students were able to meet the newest Hamiltonian to be elected to Congress and also got the chance to talk with Matt’s son and current student, Jack Cartwright ’15, and Matt's brother, Patrick Cartwright ’88. “It was great that some Hamilton College students were able to stop by my father’s new Congressional Office after the inauguration,” said Jack, “especially after being in a crowd of about a million strangers.”
Following a historic day, and double checking the headcount to make sure everyone was back on the bus, the Hamilton students made it back to campus around 4 a.m., tired and ready for bed. Students reflected on the experience before heading back to their residence halls, knowing that classes would be resuming the next day. “It was worth it,” said John Johnson ’14 who had class at 9 a.m. the next day. “I’ll have plenty of chances to be awake in class, this may be the only time I’ll have the chance to see the inauguration.”