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Hamilton Students Attend Obama's Inauguration

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On January 19, cell phone networks throughout D.C. got closer and closer to overload as thousands made last ditch efforts to snag inauguration tickets, and millions contacted friends and acquaintances to get in on celebration plans. While few were lucky enough to find tickets, at least a dozen current Hamilton students and many alumni from around the country flocked to the capital to see President Obama sworn in on Tuesday.

Leaving at 5 a.m. and searching the police-patrolled and army-guarded streets for a cab driver who could navigate the roadblocks, friends joked that on Obama's inauguration day, D.C. was safer than the Vatican. For those dedicated to securing the most desirable position possible in their ticketed section or the best ticketless standing location on the National Mall, 5 a.m, was too late to arrive, and hundreds of thousands had lined entire blocks by 6 a.m. Gretchen Gardner '09, who was among the lucky minority to secure good tickets, noted that "it didn't matter where you were standing" as "the most amazing thing about this event was being among the people." Similarly, Alex Caruso '09 described being a part of "such a diverse group of people all gathered for the same purpose" as "inspiring," and the excitement around the entire city as "electric."

Attendees took the small issues that inevitably accompany large, tightly packed crowds in stride and with humor, interacted with a high level of courtesy and respect, and got to know each other. Some former strangers even exchanged contact information by the end. The feelings of joy, hope and relief that united the crowd were overwhelming, and manifested through impromptu cheering, singing, dancing, chanting and hugging. Even the security officers trying to create emergency lanes or allow handicapped attendees a better view at the expense of more able viewers seemed to be enjoying themselves, joking and chatting as they directed the scene.

It was interesting to observe how different groups in the audience responded to different parts of the proceedings similarly and in large numbers. In the particular ticketed section where I was standing, there were cheers for Colin Powell, loud cheers for Jimmy Carter, louder cheers for Bill Clinton, and disapproving silence for the entrance of Rev. Rick Warren. By the end of Warren's invocation, silent indignation at his stances on GLBT rights seemed to have mellowed to unity in prayers and hopes that matched those expressed in Warren's carefully worded message, but that did not stop amused laughter at Warren's overly emphatic pronunciation of "Malia and Sasha." Many who were tall enough or at the right angle to see Dick Cheney make his appearance did not allow his wheelchair to dissuade them from booing, while others smilingly shook their heads. Some who found booing a bit too negative and disrespectful for such a positive day couldn't help themselves from ebulliently chiming into the less offensive singing of "nah nah, hey, hey, goodbye" ("Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam).

Although most attendees agreed that being a part of this historic moment was worth any amount of waiting, cold, or crowds, exiting the scene required at least an hour of patience. There was so much directional confusion that many switched directions several times before finally escaping, and lines to enter the Metro stretched beyond blocks. Even hours after the ceremony had ended, cab drivers headed to airports were rolling down windows to help each other find alternate routes, after other attempted routes had already been found blocked.

Although many were already sporting at least one piece of Obama-themed merchandise such as a hat, blanket, pin, sweatshirt, jacket or even shoes, business-minded people tried to persuade the crowds to buy more and more "unique" or "official" merchandise. From restaurant owners with Obama-Welcome signs to Joe-T-shirt selling unique "someday comes" shirts, all seemed to be happy to capitalize on Obama's unprecedented popularity. John McCain's campaign staff was on to something when they called Obama "the biggest celebrity in the world", and even some who hadn't supported him during the election enjoyed a substantial business boost thanks to the crowds that Obama drew and their endless enthusiasm for his name and face. With the name "OBAMA" announcing its presence in dozens of different designs and colors at every turn, I couldn't help but feel some sympathy for how overwhelmed, nervous, humbled and proud the man himself must have been felt at the sight of such extraordinarily great expectations.

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